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November 2019

Know the soil on your property
Drought management checklist for the livestock business
Weed risks in drought conditions
Natural Resources EP welcomes a new Natural Resources Officer and RALF
Salinity – ‘Magnesia patches’ showing up after a few dry years
Funding opportunities available for Eyre Peninsula farmers and farming groups
Temporary electric fencing to assist farmers
A farmer’s health and land go hand in hand
Edition 6 - Protecting soils

Keep your valuable top soil firmly in place as we come into summer 2019-20.

This sixth edition of ‘Farmers Connect EP’ provides you with plenty of resources, tactics, tips and tools to help keep that most fertile top centimeter of organic material and soil safely under cover in your care.

The forecast from now until the end of the year is for below average rainfall and above average daytime temperatures, so it’s time to get planning.



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Know the soil on your property

When you think about wind erosion prone areas on your property maybe your mind goes to that hilltop where the crop struggled this year, or the paddock where the stock should have come out earlier, or maybe it’s just that niggly problem area that you know needs protective vegetation. We’ve all got areas on properties we would like to improve, however, when you read the wind erosion statistics it really hits home. Not to mention the off-site damage such as sand drift onto fences, roadways and other infrastructure.

So how is the ground cover on the farm looking right now? Is it in the desirable or the minimal cover state (using the table within the image above)?

Hypothetically - how do you envisage it will look? Will there be enough ground on your paddocks in say two months’ time?

Get set to benefit with stronger crops, higher yields or faster recovering pastures when a prolonged dry period ends by implementing the tactics outlined below.

There is a very fine line between having sufficient or insufficient cover to hold the soil, and the good thing is there’s a number of timely tactics that can be adopted to help hold your soil in place, such as:

  • Lowering wind speed at the soil surface can reduce evaporation of moisture from the soil. Partial standing stubble (4.6 t/ha of stubble; 50% standing) is more effective than flattened stubble at reducing soil surface temperatures and moisture loss via reduced wind speed.
  • Maintain cropping paddocks with a cover of stubble or plant residue or at least retain a rough cloddy soil surface.
  • Defer grazing stubble until autumn to maintain cover over summer.
  • Don't open all the gates to allow stock to wander all over the farm. Stock trafficking ruins feed and loosens soil.
  • Grazing of crops which won't make harvest must be very carefully considered. Ground cover is rapidly removed by grazing and often provides little feed.
  • Hand feeding can be very effectively done in conjunction with confining stock to a small holding area on heavy soil or stony ground, i.e., a stock confinement area.
  • Remove stock from a paddock before ground cover is reduced to a critical level; giving priority to the lighter textured part of the paddock in this decision.

For further information get a copy of ‘Emergency measures to curb wind erosion, PIRSA factsheet’.

Recent soil testing case study findings
PIRSA Officers have been working with land managers at Franklin Harbour and Arno Bay recently, undertaking some soil sampling which has revealed both soil nutrient and physical constraints associated with hard setting subsurface layers, poor soil structure and low organic carbon. Low biomass production resulting in poor surface cover levels had increased erosion risk at these sites with both sites having areas actively drifting at the time of sampling. In addition one site had extremely low soil phosphorus levels that most likely was limiting crop production.
The amount of stubble present at sowing is also influenced by the rate of breakdown of stubble between harvest and sowing of the subsequent crop. Paddocks or areas of paddocks that have drifted should be soil tested in the February to understand what nutrients are need to be replaced to encourage good growth for the 2020 crops and pastures. Please seek out your NR Officer or PIRSA Officer for assistance with soil testing. 

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Drought management checklist for the livestock business

Drought can have a devastating impact on the livestock business. Making decisions in a dry times is difficult and getting some perspective on the issue is important before you can implement effective decisions.
Having a plan for your livestock business is critical. The plan and decisions individual farm businesses make will vary depending on individual circumstances.

Developing a livestock management plan

  • The plan needs to include objectives, dates and numbers where possible and ensure all people involved in the business are part of the decision making process. Review the plan regularly.
  • The plan should include what you will do in the drought and how you will recover.
  • Establish a support network, seek advice and gather information.
  • Consider the time needed to be invested into a strategy e.g. intensive confinement feeding of livestock.
  • Cost out decisions e.g. feeding, selling agisting.
  • Review your financial position: It’s wise to review your financial position with your bank manager in order to determine what strategies will suit your circumstances.
  • A drought plan should take into account livestock welfare, viability of the farm business and on farm resources that allow for a farm business to recover as quickly as possible.
  • In situations where prolonged feeding is required such as a dry winter and spring followed by a late break, it is often more economical to sell livestock than to purchase in feed. Focus on maintaining critical breeder numbers and know what it will cost to feed them to meet their requirements.
  • Stocktake available water and feed: Survey your farm to see how much feed (pasture, grain, hay) and water you have on hand to determine how long you can sustain current livestock numbers. Pregnant or lactating ewes/cows will have higher energy and protein requirements so this needs to be factored in.
  • Do not underfeed breeding animals as they ability to be productive the following year is compromised. It is better to feed less animals and meet their requirements properly.
  • Do not feed unproductive animals who will not make you a return.
  • Use temporary electric fencing to manage stock tracking to water points or camping on sensitive areas.
  • Ensure you have a good water flow to your troughs to ensure stock do not camp around the trough.
  • Shift the watering point to different sites in a paddock will lesson tracking and improve feed utilisation.
  • Be prepared to confine livestock to preserve natural resources such as soil and native vegetation
  • Monitor livestock body condition and pastures regularly to ensure neither deteriorate to critical levels.
  • Look after your own health and wellbeing and plan a holiday

Know the potential ‘what if’ scenarios and how your farming business would manage these if the situation should arise e.g. a late break the following autumn.

In a sound plan livestock should be considered as capital assets that can be liquidated, not kept and fed at any cost.

Further information, fact sheets, feed budgets information can be found at spring 2019 - Seasonal tips and tools.

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Weed risks in drought conditions

In addition to the immediate impacts of a drought on production and farm income, there can be unexpected side effects after the drought breaks. The long-term impact of droughts may include increased abundance of existing weeds on a property and the arrival of new weed species.

Increased abundance of weeds can cause additional production losses to an already drought-impacted farming enterprise. Prevention and control measures should be planned in advance to head off these impacts.

Drought conditions can favour weed species in the following ways:

  • Reduced competition for light, nutrients, moisture and space allows opportunistic weed species to establish and grow rapidly.
  • Dry soil conditions plus reduced soil fauna and fungi may favour weed seeds, which maintain their viability ready to germinate after drought breaking rains.
  • Soil drifting between paddocks may carry weed seeds, extending the range of established weeds within a property or between neighbouring properties.
  • Drought causes mineralisation of nitrogen in the soil, and weeds take advantage of this nitrogen for rapid growth.
  • Contaminated fodder and grain used to feed livestock can introduce various weed seeds, including herbicide resistant weed seeds (e.g. annual ryegrass).
  • When significant rainfall is received following a period of drought, there can be an increased incidence of livestock poisoning from weeds that dominate pastures. Stock losses can be due to direct plant poisoning and photosensitisation (where the skin becomes abnormally sensitive to sunlight after stock have eaten certain toxic plants).
  • There are also the issues of weeds outcompeting more desirable pasture and cropping species, further reducing farm productivity and increasing management costs.


Planning to reduce weed spread during and after a drought

Drought recovery planning for integrated weed management needs to begin before rain breaks arrive and may include a combination of expert advice, grazing management, herbicide programs, cultivation, biosecurity planning and record keeping.

Factsheet linked: Managing weed risks associated with drought conditions - PIRSA.

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Natural Resources EP welcomes a new Natural Resources Officer and RALF

My name is Holly Whittenbury and I have recently been given the wonderful opportunity to join the Natural Resource Management and Sustainable Agriculture’s workforce based here on the Eyre Peninsula! I will be working in the Natural Resources Management (NRM) Officer role based at Wudinna approximately three days a week and in the Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator (RALF) role based at Minnipa approximately two days a week.

Prior to the position, I worked in Minimum Disturbance Bushcare roles with Greening Australia and a private contractor based around the Mount Lofty Ranges. My passion has been supporting valuable habitat on both private property and conservation reserves. In these roles, my main responsibilities were to assess and control weed infestations and undertake ecological restoration projects. In addition, I also worked part time for a software company in Adelaide using mapping software to help the viticulture industry, using high resolution satellite imagery.

My educational background is mainly ecologically focused, with an emphasis on native plant botany, habitat restoration and remote sensing, having recently graduated from UniSA with a Bachelor of Environmental Science, and TAFE SA with Certificate III in Conservation and Land Management.

Needless to say, I am very glad to get out of the office and out of the city and back out into the country! Having grown up in Peterborough in the states mid north, I was inspired in my childhood to follow a career where I may help facilitate a more sustainable relationship between habitat conservation and agriculture. I am sure I will learn greatly from the local property owners in the area, particularly in the realm of agricultural practices and local area knowledge. I also appreciate everyone’s warm and friendly welcome – and valuable travel directions - so far!

Holly Whittenbury work contact details: Holly.Whittenbury@sa.gov.au, Wudinna office phone 86261108.

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Salinity – ‘Magnesia patches’ showing up after a few dry years

Over the past few seasons farmers have begun to notice patchy bare areas where previously they have grown good crops.  In many cases this is likely to be a symptom of naturally occurring salinity, sometimes called 'magnesia patches' which is an indication of historically accumulated salts in the soil profile rather than water table influenced dryland salinity. 

The salt has remained in the surface soil where relatively low rainfall, and high evaporation rates have prevented the salts from being leached away.  Over the last few years, rainfall has been well below average, evaporation has drawn salt up to the soil surface and without rainfall to wash it down the profile, has restricted plant growth in these patches. Bare areas then becoming more prone to evaporation, which in turn bring more salt to the surface, and further restricts growth. 

'Magnesia patches' are characterised by abrupt changes from areas of healthy plant growth to bare crusted land and vary in size depending on seasonal rainfall. Hence farmers noticing that patches are expanding.

This is an issue in exposed areas of heavy flats or areas of heavy traffic such as headlands, tracks and sheep camps. Although the salts remain in the soil profile, in wet years they are leached beyond the root zone and impact on crop growth and yields is less. On magnesia patches, salt levels are high throughout the profile, sufficient to affect the growth of non-salt tolerant plants, and so should dry seasons continue, so will the problem.

Options for minimising the impact on these areas include

  • Retain surface cover to minimise evaporation and build up organic matter by retaining stubbles and residues
  • Avoid overgrazing
  • Spreading straw or hay can help reclaim small bare areas
  • Boron tolerant wheat or oat varieties tend to perform better.  Triticale, barley or cereal rye can produce good stubble yields
  • Do not sow until good opening or follow up rains have occurred and soil moisture levels are high
  • Sowing shallow (i.e. 25mm depth with press wheels or flexi-coil roller) can improve emergence.

Areas with more extensive or severe magnesia patches are less likely to support profitable cropping and annual pastures in the long term. They can be rehabilitated with perennial saltbush or salt tolerant grasses. Fencing these patches give the added benefit of a ‘green haystack’ for autumn stock feed.

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Funding opportunities available for Eyre Peninsula farmers and farming groups

1. Natural Resources Eyre Peninsula Farming systems small grants

There are a number of grant opportunities for farmers and farming groups on Eyre Peninsula currently open or will be open shortly.  If you have a Natural Resource Management focused project idea you would like to see come to life in the next few months the Eyre Peninsula Natural Resources Management (NRM) Board welcomes applications from Agricultural and Farming Systems groups for the 2019-20 small grants funding round. Examples of on-ground works include action on soils quality, water management. Activities that build skills and knowledge within community groups to understand or manage natural resources can range from women in agriculture workshops, guest speakers and field days.

All applications must be received before close of business on Friday 29 November 2019.

Ideally all projects should be completed by Friday 30 May 2020. Guidelines and Application forms are available by calling (08) 8688 3111, or from your local Natural Resources Office, or from the Natural Resources Eyre Peninsula website.


2. Smart Farms Small Grants Round 3
Round 3 opens today until 11 pm AEDT, Thursday 19 December 2019. There is up to $5 million available for grants valued between $5,000 and $50,000 are offered to organisations and individuals to develop and extend new tools and technologies that help farmers, fishers, foresters and regional communities adopt best practice land management.The grant opportunity guidelines and application form can be found at: www.communitygrants.gov.au/grants/national-landcare-program-smart-farms-small-grants-round-3


3. Mixed species crops and pastures for soil management demonstration
There are all sorts of reasons why farmers are interested in autumn and winter mixed species pastures cropping ranging from improving soil health, plant diversity, increasing organic matter, controlling weeds, improved grazing and reducing chemical use.  
Regenerative Agriculture Project Officer, Mary Crawford said “Eyre Peninsula farmers, with funding from the National Landcare Program have the opportunity undertake paddock demonstrations this autumn to get a better understanding of which pasture and cropping species work in their soil and climatic conditions.
‘The project, which is funded for the next four years, involves farmers setting up a long term demonstration of mixed species winter and summer cover crops and monitoring the results’ said Mary. ‘Landholders select a paddock to demonstrate the success of a variety of plants and measure them against the control.
Farmers and groups interested in exploring the value of mixed species cropping in 2020 can apply now.

Applications will close on Sunday 2 February 2020.

The guidelines and applications forms are available on the Natural Resources Eyre Peninsula web site.  www.naturalresources.sa.gov.au/eyrepeninsula/land-and-water/sustainable-agriculture/soil-health

Holly Whitenbury, Sarah Voumard and Mary Crawford are available to help farmers with the application forms and answer any questions. For further information please contact Mary Crawford on 0407 187 878 or via email mary.crawford@sa.gov.au

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Temporary electric fencing to assist farmers

The Eyre Peninsula NRM Board have provided four temporary electric fencing systems with a RAPPA ATV winder to assist landholders to prevent further degradation of land following prolonged periods of below average rainfall. 

The aim of the program is to assist landholders establish soil cover on areas of drift by excluding stock from fragile areas for up to six weeks. Please contact your regional NRM Officer to find out further information.

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A farmer’s health and land go hand in hand

Support is never far away, the following agencies and groups are available to assist.

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This Regenerative Agriculture Project is supported by the Eyre Peninsula Natural Resources Management Board, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

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