Farmers Connect EP

June 2023

Regenerative Ag update

Welcome to our Farmers Connect EP newsletter. This will be our last newsletter as part of the current Regenerative Agriculture Program, which we have been running for the past five years though funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Thanks to those staff who have been involved with working on the program during this time: Mary Crawford, Sarah Voumard, Brett Masters, Josh Telfer, Amy Wright, Naomi Scholz and Susan Stovell.

Since 2020, Ag Innovation and Research EP (AIR EP) has been our partner in this program, which has included grants for farmers to undertake soil carbon and mixed species demonstrations in a bid to learn what sustainable agriculture practices can work for Eyre Peninsula farmers.

The last month of the program has seen our annual Regenerative Ag Forum held, an acidic soils online workshop and finishing touches put on a range of resources that our farming community can use well into the future.

Keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter pages for updates as we release our final farmer resources. We hope to be in touch again later in the year once our next sustainable agriculture program is finalised.

Around the region

By Sustainable Agriculture Project Officer, Josh Telfer

Well, we are in winter which I am sure you have noticed. We have had some good falls, some great falls, and some with room for improvement. A lot of areas seemed to progress well through seeding, with many saying it was one of the earliest they had finished - though everyone’s circumstances and programs are different, and conditions across the whole region do vary.

Moisture in May was certainly tight in a lot of places, but many places have seen significant improvement into June. Looking at the satellite images, most areas seem to be well covered. Eyre Peninsula has been leading the state recently in terms of maintaining surface cover, and it appears that this season may be similar. Some places have seen problems with mice, slugs, and snails, and while the cold weather will help with mice, I’m not sure how much it will help with the molluscs.

Managing acid soils

The soil acidity component of the Regenerative Agriculture Program has seen some important work take place across lower and eastern Eyre, continuing the work of previous soil acidity monitoring programs. Our program enabled resampling of pH of known acid soils in 2019, as well as significant sampling of new or ‘emerging’ locations of soil acidity. A total of 56 sites on EP have been monitored during our 5-year program.

The number of sites tested was due to both interest from farmers in understanding the effects of applied lime, but also how the increasing rates of nitrogen fertilisers where affecting pH. The new locations were across lower, central, and eastern Eyre Peninsula where increased cropping, fertiliser-use intensity, and the growing of more low pH sensitive crops could be leading to increased acidity. Modelling suggested that these soils could be prone to soil acidification. The map below shows the area of concerns for acidity outside the known hotspots, and that it extends into the lighter ‘mallee’ type soils.

The current acidity areas red, with predicted future acidity areas also shown in lighter colours. The blue areas are considered unlikely to become acidic.

The soil acidity monitoring program has shown the importance of pH testing as well as testing at varying depths, not just the top 10cm of soil.

“From this program, we can say that farmers with soil acidity issues should definitely test the soil pH, both in the surface and subsurface with a lab kit and also at a lab," says Sustainable Agriculture Project Officer, Josh Telfer.

“In addition, we’ve compared sampling at 5cm and 10cm intervals and the data has shown that once liming has begun, farmers really need to be sampling at 5cm increments otherwise you might think your lime is working but it’s just stuck in the top 5cm.

“The soil work has also showed us that when lime is spread, it doesn’t all react instantly with the soil – it depends on the pH, soil texture and other soil properties.

“So it really is important to keep testing soil and trying to work out what is best for your type of soil and how you are working with it.”

We've held forums to help growers understand some of these findings. The final forum was held as a webinar and a recording of this is available.

More details about the project can also be found on the Board's website.

Soil carbon and plant-based trial outcomes

A key component of our Regenerative Agriculture Program has been farmer-run demonstrations to trial soil carbon improvement methods and mixed species pastures to improve soil health.

The soil carbon and plant-based streams have run simultaneously, allowing the allocation of small grants to farmers and farmer groups with the goal of investigating the role of soil modifications, and multi-species.

Our soil carbon stream encouraged farmers to use interventions to overcome subsoil constraints with long-term benefits for increased soil organic carbon and productivity across a range of soil types. Interventions included deep ripping, rock crushing, and the addition of soil amendments.

The mixed species plot demonstrations gave farmers the opportunity to reduce soil erosion, increase soil biodiversity and soil health across a range of soil types. The project had a winter mixed species demonstration component – which could be sown for grazing, hay, or grain production – as well as a summer cover crop demonstration component with data collected from the sites for up to four seasons. The pasture and cropping options aimed to have long term benefits to improve soil health.

As a result, there have been varying outcomes across the region, as landholders trialled methods in a range of environments, over different years. They also monitored and collected information on different aspects.

While the grant reports and data are still being finalised, the table below shows there is quite a range of different responses. The sites labelled with ‘SC’ are soil modification sites, while those with ‘PB’ are those with multi-species or summer species cover crops.

Table 1 Organic carbon (Walkley Black) of the different treatments compared to the control in autumn 2023. Note these are only one measurement so cannot be analysed statistically. The results are shown as a change in organic carbon as a percentage of the control measured at the end of the project.

Different sites had different numbers and types of treatments, so none are directly comparable, but we observed that some interventions or treatments, did not improve organic carbon, while some did.

It is the increases in the 10-20, and 20-30cm zones that are the most exciting, as these are more likely to be stable rather than organic carbon on the surface. These are only partial results, but they provide an interesting demonstration of variation in the data. Note that most of the demonstrations were not replicated trials, so the figures are not statistically analysed but are reported here for interest.

The program also had an extension component which encouraged the recipients to collaborate with their local Ag Bureau or farmer group and visit their site during the spring field walk season, as a way to share results of trials. The Franklin Harbour Ag Bureau checking out one of the mixed species demonstrations sites located in the Mangalo hills on their 2022 Sticky Beak Day (pictured).

Improving local Mallee seeps knowledge

Before and after at a Waddikee trial site (September 2020 and December 2021). The landowner was able to get lucerne established around the seep area to stop the flow and also establish Puccinellia on the scald area.

Mallee seeps have become an emerging aspect of the Eyre Peninsula landscape, in particular for the Eastern Eyre Peninsula over the past 15-20 years. It has also become more prevalent since the extreme rainfall event in January 2022.

Our program has focused on extending knowledge around Mallee seeps and in particular the research that is occurring on Eyre Peninsula and in the Mallee, by supporting a local project about overcoming seeps.

As a result, we collaborated with Mallee Sustainable Farming to develop a Mallee Seep Decision Tree that provides an interactive online guide to all aspects of Mallee seep identification and management. Farmers are encouraged to use this resource to assist in clarifying the issue and whether it is a Mallee seep forming or another form of salinity.

It is now recommended that farmers look, monitor and act early, rather than allow degraded areas to form such as saline scalds, which then expand and go out of production. In the case of Mallee seeps, prevention is better than cure, but there are ways to address the issue once a scald has developed.

An example of one of the strategies used in the management process is establishing a salt tolerant grass Puccinellia on the scalded areas of the seep. You can see in the pictures above, the success we have had getting the grass established to minimise evaporation and the movement of salts to the grounds surface.

We also have a series of videos from local trials, that aim to help with Mallee seeps management on Eyre Peninsula farms.

Learn from local farmers

Throughout this program, we’ve written up case studies of farmer experiences so others can learn from what they have tried. Our two latest case studies are now available, focusing on soil acidity and erosion control.

Soil acidity
When a lower Eyre Peninsula farmer started having issues with aluminium toxicity such as a reduction in drought tolerance and fertiliser to yield conversion along with dead patches in wet seasons, they knew action was needed. They started rotational liming and after 11 years, have found this to be a long-term method of addressing acidity across a whole farming system.

Find out more about their experience at their properties at Whites Flat, Koppio, Wanilla and Winters Hill from Derek Mcdonald (pictured).

Erosion control after severe weather
A cropping and sheep enterprise at Pinkawillinie saw up to 300mm of rain over a 24 hour period during the January 2022 extreme weather event. This resulted in flooding and erosion of topsoils.

The Yates’ who run the property, received some expert soil support through our Regenerative Agriculture Program and Eastern Eyre Storm Recovery project to help with remediation. It took more than 12 months for all the water to clear and all debris to be cleared but now they have a winter crop in. They have shared their experience in managing erosion – and other issues - as they tried to recover their farming land. Read their case study.

Our final regen ag forum

Earlier this month we held our last Regen Ag Forum, giving local farmers the opportunity to hear from soil experts and other farmers.

Dr Craig Liddicoat spoke about soil microbiology including how it can impact plant growth, how different microbial communities are impacted by different farming practices, and how microbes can be used to measure soil health, once you know the soil physical and chemical characteristics.

Dr Michael Nash shared information on invertebrates – who does what, how to look after the good guys, what pests might be saying about paddock soil nutrition and key tips including:

  • Diversify tactics to reduce pest populations
  • Diversify rotations
  • Use crops tolerant to pests
  • Ensure sowing at optimal times
  • Shrewd use of pesticides

We also heard from farmers about their experiences with the small grants projects they undertook as part of this program. Interestingly, each farmer had different aims or issues they wanted to overcome with their small grants, but the practices used were quite similar across many of the projects – such as using mixed species pastures in both winter and summer, and/or soil amelioration activities.

They all had positive outcomes and said the small grants program provided the catalyst for many to give something a try and measure the outcomes, which has resulted in expanding some of the practices further in their farming systems.

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