Farmers digging deeper into soil health

May 20, 2019

Free soil tests and on-farm soil health advice have helped Wet Tropics farmers to fine-tune the way they manage their land.

Forty farmers from the Daintree to Ingham completed a six-month Digging Deeper Plus soil health program recently after visits to more than 25 farms ranging from cane and grazing land to pineapple, lime and coffee properties.

Terrain NRM’s Rowan Shee said farmers had learned from soil fertility specialist David Hardwick and from each other’s soil samples, innovations and general farming practices. The Digging Deeper Plus program is supported by Terrain NRM through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

“In the Wet Tropics, we have fertile red volcanic soils to light granite soils but many of the take-home messages are the same – about knowing your different soil types and learning how to build soil health across all of them,’’ Mr Shee said. “Learning how to better understand soil tests results and apply them to land management is also a big part of the program.”

Tablelands grazier Blue Perkowicz said he would be looking at a light fertilising regime after tests revealed high organic matter in his soils but confirmed they were “lacking a little bit of nutrition”.

He also plans to plant more legumes in his pastures to increase biodiversity.

“In the long-term I’ll be looking at more fencing too. We have varying soil types in some paddocks and the cattle preferential graze in the red volcanic soil section. Fencing to separate the different soil types will force them to use pasture they don’t use as much and will rest the other pasture.”

Ingham cane farmer Ian Carr said going “back to the basics” of soil health and better understanding the science behind soil tests would help him with nutrient rates and future planning.

“For the last 20 or so years we’ve been making changes like moving to dual rows, trialling some mixed species cover cropping, minimum till and now zero till,’’ he said. “We’re prepared to work through challenges and a course like this offers up new ideas.”

Lake Barrine grazier Mike Hopkins said the program had given farmers confidence to delve further into soil sampling and test results. “We did a lot of this in the course - learning how to read soil tests correctly and, from that, learning what additives are needed to be used to improve pasture in some places,’’ he said. “It’ll help me to work a lot smarter, to manage the land gently.”

Presenter David Hardwick said keeping high levels of living ground cover was important in high rainfall areas of the Wet Tropics. He said farmers had also benefited from learning more about each other’s innovations, including using ‘compost tea’, adopting ‘planned grazing’ practices and planting multi-species cover crops.

Farmers who want to learn more about their soils can watch a series of Wet Tropics Soil Health videos featuring David Hardwick.