Soil Health Innovation Tour


21 MAY 2020

Biological farming practices including paramagnetics have given Wet Tropics farmers food for thought during a soil health innovation tour.

Farmers visited Victoria in early March and one stop-off was a sheep farm where pastures are being improved by applying a mixture of paramagnetic rock dust and home-brewed compost and fertiliser, leading to significant gains in soil health and stocking numbers.

Robbie and Thel Hodges started making their own compost 12 years ago, mostly from stable waste and poultry manure from nearby farms. They added bacteria and fungi, cultured in an aerated brewer, and say the soil started to function a lot better. The Hodges use minimal synthetic fertilisers and sow multiple varieties of perennial grasses into their pastures.

Seven years ago they started investigating paramagnetics for agriculture – the magnetic effects on soil fertility and the beneficial aspects of volcanic rock minerals for soils and plants. They began adding rock dust to their compost and ran trials in the vegetable patch. Now, whenever they spread any material on their pasture, like animal manures or lime, they add the paramagnetic rock dust.

The Hodges now use a four-in-one organic fertiliser mix – part rock dust, part pig or poultry manure, part fly ash from smelters and part compost. They also produce a liquid fertiliser by adding the four-in-one to a compost brewer and topping up with bacteria and fungi.

Mr Hodges said the results had been rewarding. “We could see that the conventional methods of farming were demanding more and more inputs to achieve a decent pasture,’’ he said.

“After 12 years of farming biologically we have had a 100 per cent increase in stock numbers, increases in the soil’s pH from 4.2 to 5.8 and increases in organic matter from 2.4 to 5.8 per cent.

“This method of farming is not just increasing production for us, it is restoring landscape function and appears to be increasing our resilience to climate variability. With an aim originally of lifting the nutrient content of our produce rather than quantity per hectare, we’ve in fact done both by focusing on specific minerals, soil testing and a whole array of management monitoring and fertility practices.”

The Hodge’s property was one of 10 visited during a tour that included an award-winning organic cropping farm, a grazing property, dairy, seed production, vermiculture and olives farm. The trip also included a carbon farming presentation.

Terrain NRM’s Wet Tropics Regional Agricultural Landcare Facilitator Evizel Seymour said the focus was on farming methods to regenerate soils, boost returns and better protect the environment.

“Farmers on this tour are already working to improve soil health on their properties,’’ she said. “The trip was about new ideas, sharing the challenges and results of innovative practices and strengthening projects already underway.

“Farmers have come back saying that the things they’ve learnt over the years have been reinforced, and that they’ll be working on introducing new methods that can work in their own situations.”

The Soil Health Innovation Tour was organised by Terrain NRM’s Wet Tropics Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator in partnership with Central Queensland Soil Health Systems, Northern Gulf NRM, the Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership and Wet Tropics Soilcare. The Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator position and related projects are funded through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

To find out more, speak to our Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator Evizel Seymour on 4043 8000 or email


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