WEBINAR PART 3
BUILDING SOIL HEALTH – AND A HEALTHY COMMUNITY
Tim Wright and Bill and Rhonda Daly
This week saw the last of our Soil Health webinars, brought to you in partnership with the National Landcare Facilitator, come to a successful conclusion. Over 670 people registered for one or more of the webinars, able to interact and ask questions of our presenters during the course of the webinar. These webinars and the questions and answers generated now provide an ongoing resource for anyone interested in learning more about soil health – why it’s important, how to build it and how to monitor and measure to extend positive results.
PART 3: HOW DO WE MEASURE, MONITOR AND EXTEND EFFECTIVE PRACTICES?
TIM WRIGHT. A grazier from Lana, near Uralla in NSW, Tim’s monitoring of rainfall and stocking rates provides evidence of how his holistic practices have supported an increased carrying capacity regardless of rainfall.
- Tim investigated alternative approaches to farming 20 years ago as soil health was poor and farm management costly. He trialed cell grazing and eventually adopted planned grazing and holistic management.
- Over time Tim has increased his number of paddocks from 35 (average of 240 acres each) to 250 (average of 32 acres each). This enables him to better manage his stock for improved soil health benefits and to provide sufficient rest and recovery time for pastures.
- Resting is a key management tool resulting in increased productivity through profit, using holistic management principles.
- Tim has recovered the cost of all of his subdivisions within 2 years – through increased productivity and therefore profits.
- Monitoring and measurement is central to Tim’s management. He bases this on the Holistic Management foundations blocks of water and mineral cycles, sun energy flows and community dynamics.
- He has undertaken a number of Landcare-funded trials of planned compared with continuous grazing, with fixed point monitoring across various transects on his property. The Botany Department from the University of New England undertook studies of the mineral cycle in these trial areas, recording very positive results for soil health and nutrient transfer in the planned grazing areas.
- Tim believes that it is important to have an action plan to manage your stock and respond to what you read in the landscape (eg, with drought or growth periods).
- Tim’s records of rainfall and stocking rate from a period of over 30 years demonstrate that, due to his grazing management techniques and the water-holding qualities of his healthy soils, he has been able to increase and maintain stock levels – even with reduced rainfall.
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BILL & RHONDA DALY. Running a grazing and cropping on the property Milgadara, near Young in NSW, measurement and monitoring have been key to the Daly’s understanding of their landscape, enabling them to balance soil structural, biological and mineral components.
- Across 1250 hectares, Bill and Rhonda crop canola, wheat, oats and lupins (300 hectares) and run a self-replacing merino flock of 5500 sheep and a prime lamb enterprise. They also have 120 head of steer which are traded annually.
- The Dalys were inspired to change from previous conventional practices which had resulted in “dead” soils, with poor structure, imbalanced minerals, no visible signs of life, increasing input costs whilst animal nutrition and health and profitability was declining.
- They adopted soil health management and fertility practices that enhanced microbial activity – bringing their soil back to life. These included:
- Producing on-farm Humus Compost
- Reducing soluble fertilisers
- Stopping application of single super
- Applying microbial compost tea
- Retaining crop stubble
- Shortening rotations and introducing minimum tillage
- Undersowing with legumes
- Planting more trees
- Measurement and monitoring have been key to the Dalys’ soil health success. Using the senses to observe signs of life in the soil, feel soil texture, smell for sweetness are all good indicators of soil health.
- The Dalys have invested time into understanding how to interpret soil tests and how to respond. They undertake comprehensive soil tests, which show total, exchangeable and soluble mineral pools; and plant leaf or tissue tests to show if plants are absorbing nutrients measured in the soil.
- Minerals in the total nutrient pool can become available if robust and diverse microbial activity is encouraged. The greater the microbial population in the rhizosphere (soil around roots), the greater the nutrient absorption by the plant.
- In addition, the Dalys test animal performance, lambing percentage from birth to weaning, weight gain yield of your carcass at time of slaughter, wool quality.
- The Dalys have gained many benefits by building their soil health, including cost savings, increased yields, improved plant and animal health and soil carbon.
- With the right mineral and microbial balances, the Dalys have been able to build 10cm of topsoil in 2 years on cropping land.
- Improved soil health and soil organic carbon has resulted in retention of an additional 56,000L of water per hectare on the Daly’s property.
- The Dalys’ wool production increased by 2kg per head and attracted a premium price due to its quality – brightness, comfort factor and low vegetable matter.
- Profitability in farming is important and the Dalys are achieving that with their regenerative farming, as well as ‘happy healthy families’ .
- Learn more from the Dalys at their Field Day on 24 July, ‘Milgadara’, Young. Details coming soon on our Events page.
DOWNLOAD PRESENTATION (6MB)
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Thanks to everyone who participated, for your wide-ranging questions, interesting follow-up discussions and for helping us to build a community who understands the importance of healthy soils. Hopefully these webinars have inspired you to commence – or keep up – managing your soil health!
The Soils for Life Team