Studying your soil

Soil management for producers

Studying your soil

Soil management for producers

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The issue

Soil management is a crucial component for sustainable agriculture. While producers are familiar with the physical appearance of their topsoil they often overlook the importance of sub-surface soil characteristics and capabilities when making management decisions.

The solution

An event was organised to help producers understand their soil and gain confidence to investigate soil constraints. Key characteristics of local soils were demonstrated in an excavated soil pit. Sue Briggs and John Fowler of Murray Local Land Services explained how colour, texture, structure, compaction layers and root growth extent can be identified and what the implications were for overall productivity.. A discussion on soil biology led by principal research scientist for AgriBio, Pauline Mele also featured. Pauline outlined how microbial organisms currently influence agricultural soils, how their research is progressing and what we may be able to expect in the future.

The impact

Sixteen people attended the workshops held in Wakool and Deniliquin in late March. All attendees were either landholders or advisors with an interest in soils, representing up to 4000 hectares. After the event, 80% of attendees said they intended to make or recommend changes in response to the information presented on the day. These changes included:

  • Completing regular soil testing and subsoil analysis on their farm
  • Growing polycultures to feed microbial populations in the soil
  • Changing current fertiliser programs
  • Changing irrigation practices
  • Using a soil pit to analyse soil characteristics

These changes would impact up to 2000 hectares of agricultural land.The majority of attendees have Sodosols (structurally unstable soils), so dispersion is an issue for production. Presentations increased awareness of identification and management options for sodicity, such as gypsum application and avoidance of physical soil disturbance such as deep ripping. Attendees also learnt about the importance of groundcover, compaction avoidance and selection of a diverse plant species mix to promote healthy microbial populations. They were cautioned to trial small areas of commercial products featuring soil biology before purchase to ensure persistence and test implications of foreign microorganisms in individual environments.

Key facts

  • Dispersive soils can be an issue in this region
  • Subsoil characteristics are important to determine production capabilities
  • Consider soil biology in farm management practices
  • Specific biological products should be trialled in individual environments before purchase

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