Soil Health - A Hot Topic at Boobyjan
May 09, 2014
A very interested group of cropping and dairy farmers gathered at the Soil Health Information session held at Dean and Tracy Rockemer’s property at Booubyjan on the 1st of May. The day was organised by the Burnett Mary Regional Group (BMRG) in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, University of Queensland (QAAFI). The focus of the event was part of the flood recovery farm productivity project which BMRG has been providing since the 2013 flood event. Participants were drawn from the Booubyjan and Byee priority flood areas.
Presenters Dr Mike Bell (QAAFI) and Dr David Lawrence (DAFF) went through a comprehensive explanation of the interdependence of the many ingredients that make up our soils. Particular emphasis was placed on the role of Carbon and organic matter as well as the after effect of inundation and flooding on the soil profile.
A sobering message was that the majority of Queensland cropping soil is running down in nutrients and the time is right to put in place strategies to replace what has been removed over the years. It is also evident that this is not a simple fix and a combination of soil testing and matching inputs of nutrition to aspired outputs of crops and fodder is essential to try and create the balance for long term viability. Another emerging finding is the depletion of nutrients from the deeper profiles of the soil. Most plant food in the soil is concentrated in the top 30 cm of soil with a large part of that in the top 10 cm. Conventional practices routinely apply the fertiliser and soil amendments such as manures etc. to the top of the soil with minimal incorporation mainly down to 10cm. Mr Bell’s research has found that the 20 to 30 cm depths in the soil profile are being depleted and in turn reducing crop production. Trial work placing appropriate levels of nutrition in that layer have produced significant results in crop growth. There is always a challenge with nutrition and farming and this is one that is upon the various industries at present.
The Carbon and organic matter story is also a complex set of interactions which dictate a considered approach to improving soil carbon which include significant attention to the current status of the soil through testing and the economic reality of making a livelihood off your farm.
A particularly useful document called “Assessing Soil health: A guide to assessing soil health on your Farm”, is available on the BMRG WEB site and was produced by the two speakers at the Information day. This publication looks at all aspects of soil health and provides some very useful and importantly practical assessment methods to help with decision making on the farm.
An important take home message is, if you wish to improve the soil you first have to know what the current condition is and the presenters recommended routine soil tests at least every five years. They may be worthwhile more frequently if there has been some sort of change or disturbance such as flooding or a change in cropping or management.
View Mike Bell's Presentation here
View David Lawrence's Presentation here