Farmers Connect EP

Feb/March 2023

Regenerative Ag update

Welcome to the latest edition of Farmers Connect EP from the Eyre Peninsula Landscape Board and facilitators of our Regenerative Agriculture Program, Ag Innovation and Research EP (AIR EP).

This newsletter provides a summary of local sustainable agriculture issues and work happening under the Regenerative Agriculture Program which is supported by the Board, through funding from the Australian Government's National Landcare Program.

As our current program comes to an end in June, we will be holding some events in the coming months. We encourage Eyre Peninsula farmers to get along where they can to benefit from what has been learnt from various trials run across the Eyre Peninsula over the past few years. Separate to that, landscape officers have begun annual fox bait distribution days. Find your closest distribution.

Seasonal conditions across EP

Regional update (November 2022 to February 2023) from our Sustainable Agriculture Project Officer, Josh Telfer

The last three months of 2022 were characterised by an extended cool and moist spring. This significantly delayed grain harvest across the region, with many communities experiencing the latest start and finish to harvest in more than a generation.

The early start to the season combined with the mild conditions during grain fill saw record-breaking grain yields across most districts.

Exceptional canola and lentil crops were seen on northern and eastern EP. Ground cover levels around the region have also been exceptional, although significant areas of Eastern Eyre Peninsula and Lower Eyre Peninsula were impacted by waterlogging and water erosion from wet conditions in 2022.

The map below shows the entire region was well above average in terms of plant growth when looked at over 2022, with the Far West showing how great the seasonal conditions were there compared to the 2008-17 average.

Plant growth index for the agricultural zone, January–December 2022 (DEW Seasonal Conditions and Erosion Risk on Agricultural Land January 2023 report).

The subregional breakdowns across the year (pictured below) show that for both Plant Growth Index and actual % cover, Eastern, Western, and Lower Eyre Peninsula all performed better than in 2021, and the reference period.

While this is great, we encourage farmers to take care to maintain surface cover and avoid erosion, especially in grain legume and canola stubbles in the lower rainfall areas where – because of the reduced stubble load – erosion in the lightly textured soil can quickly develop if they are not managed well, particularly with large paddocks to manage and landscape artifacts like sand dunes.

As is often the case with high production years, there are challenges like mice, snails and the difficulty of sowing into high stubble loads – hopefully these can be overcome.

Plant Growth Index and % Cover for EP sub-regions (DEW Seasonal Conditions and Erosion Risk on Agricultural Land January 2023 report).

Ripping, delving, spading, Plozza, inclusion - what problems do they fix?

Ripping, delving and other ways of mixing soils are soil amelioration techniques that have seen expanded use over the past decade as farmers have sought to deal with a range of diverse soil and crop issues. These include water repellence, low water holding capacity, poor fertility, compaction, high weed seed burden and low infiltration as well as ways to incorporate additions like lime, gypsum or manures.

While some of these terms and related machines look and sound similar, depending on their mechanics and geometry, they can perform different tasks and differ in costs to use.

An example of this would be delving, which is using a deep ripping tyne designed primarily to lift deeper clays and heavy textured soil to the surface, normally a sandy topsoil. This is useful as it will mitigate non-wetting sands, but this technique can also address compaction and improve water holding capacity in the topsoil, which can have further benefits around nutrient retention and biological activity, and even other benefits like soil mixing.

However, the same tool, used in more heavy textured soils with shallower B horizons, could result in massive amounts of low fertility subsoils dumped on the soil surface which could lead to poor crop emergence, low nutrient availability, and generally poor soil conditions.

Delved sand over clay soil.

Getting the right tool for the right soil and conditions is a challenge, but it is important. In seeking to improve farmer knowledge and experience, AIR EP hosted two sandy soils masterclasses on Eyre Peninsula last year. The masterclasses brought together technical experts and allowed them to share information with growers about the different mechanical, soil, plant, and economic issues relating to local sandy soils amelioration research.

One of the presentations at the masterclass was a comparison of mechanical tyne based interventions shared by Dr Chris Saunders and Dr Jack Desbiolles from the Agriculture Machinery Research and Design Centre at the University of SA. They showed how different components of different manufacture and styles of tynes performed depending on the context of soil and the soil modification goals. These included things like winged tynes, delving tynes; and the design and use of inclusion plates.

AIR EP will be hosting a second series of the sandy soils masterclasses in September this year.

Until then, if you weren’t able to attend the 2022 events you can access this excellent recording of Chris Saunders covering similar material. There's also a series of videos on the GRDC YouTube page such as this GRDC video about crop establishment after deep ripping, as well as deep ripping bloopers - it is easy to focus on successes rather than learning from bloopers.

There's also this informative GRDC paper about deep ripping & where it will and won't work; and a summary from Dr Sanders about the design and use of inclusion plates (page 185). 

There are many examples of successful soil amelioration. However, understanding the different tools, and soils you need them in, will go a long way to help you have those successes on your own land.

Learning from peers in paddocks

A group of 10 Eyre Peninsula farmers have been involved with a soil health project focused on drought resilience. The Paddock Labs for Drought Resilience project, run in 2021-22 by Soils for Life, supported experimentation with drought resilient cropping practices in South Australia.

Our Sustainable Agriculture Project Officer Josh Telfer was involved with supporting the farmers throughout the project which was led on the Eyre Peninsula by soil consultant David Davenport.

The participants trialled various drought-resilient practices on their farms to improve soil health and drought resistance with technical support and monitoring tools provided as well as being supported by peer-to-peer learning around topics of interest and relevance to the participants. Participating in farmer-led learning was greatly valued by the participants.

David Foster farms near Louth Bay and is faced with soil constraints including sodium and calcareous soils. The project gave David the opportunity to experiment with deep ripping and the use of pelletised manures as a potentially cost effective way of providing long term benefits to his soils.

Read more details about the project and other Eyre Peninsula farmers.

How to deal with acidic soils

Two up coming Acidic Soil Forums being held at Cleve (27 March) and Yallunda Flat (28 March), will present an opportunity to hear about the latest research in the management and treatment of acidic soils including pH mapping liming; and the long-term trends.

Brett Masters (SARDI) will present results from the regional long-term soil acidity monitoring program. This program has tracked the soil acidity down the profile in 55 different EP paddocks that are either acidic or prone to acidity. Brett will show the how the pH of these sites have changed over time in response to liming and other farmer management. An example of this data is shown below. 

Ruby Hume, a University of Adelaide PhD student, will present the results of some of her work including her GRDC-PIRSA project in which she is investigating ways to address surface and subsurface acidity in no-till cropping regions acround SA. She has a particular focus on how novel technologies, specifically infrared spectroscopy, can be used to monitor and manage acidic soils, particularly how they can be used to understand the fate (where it has all gone) of applied ag lime.

Ruby has reviewed results from the EP long-term monitoring sites, and will be able to share insights about the thousands of tonnes of lime that have been spread over the past ten years and what effect it might be having on the soil.

There will also be a general discussion and presentation of the roles of soil pH surface mapping and whether this indicates what is happening with subsurface acidity, followed by an extensive Q&A panel session with Ruby and Brett.

Register by March 22 at
Contact: Josh Telfer on 0460 000 290. 

Ruby Hume is a PhD student who will share insights from her work on surface and subsurface acidity.

Learn from farmer demonstrations: Regenerative Ag Forum 2023

Our current Regenerative Agriculture Program will wrap-up in June. Preliminary planning has begun for a final regenerative agriculture forum for those involved with our soil carbon and mixed species demonstration grants as well as anyone else interested in the topic.

We’ve found many commonalities across the demonstrations that our grant recipients established throughout the region. However with such diversity of soil, climate and types of enterprises, there is also a lot of variety in information captured and lessons learnt.

We are currently developing a program for the forum, to be held in June; and engaging some outside expertise to guide and inform us about soil and rhizosphere biology and the agricultural implication of some of the different systems the grant recipients have been experimenting with.

Please keep your eye on our events page and social media as more details for this event are released closer to June.

Various demonstration sites across the Eyre Peninsula during the regenerative ag project.

Improving soil health with ripping and mixed species

An Ungarra farm on sloping ground with sandy loams over tight, often sodic clays, has been the site of one of our soil carbon grants. The farmer used the grant to trial the impact on soil health when ripping is combined with a mixed species crop.

The project has allowed the farmer to monitor the effect on his soils and production with deep ripping, application of gypsum, application of lime and the combinations of all three, including the interaction with his mixed species pasture forage.

The demonstration returned approximately 70% increase in below ground biomass as shown below in radish tubers.

Read the case study to find out more about what worked and what they’d do differently in the future for improving production and soil health.

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