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December 2021

Small crop grants
Multi-species case study
Different roles for multi-species pastures and cover crops
Puccinellia taking hold on EP Mallee seeps
Deep ripping project concludes
Seasonal summary for the Eyre Peninsula region
Sponsorships for EP women in ag to attend conference
Useful (and free) subscriptions
Regenerative agriculture newsletter

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

This newsletter provides a summary of local sustainble 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.

In this edition of Farmers Connect we highlight the benefits of multi-species pastures and cover crops. Our grant program can help farmers test these out. We also give updates on a few projects including one that's trialling Mallee seeps management strategies and another that tested out the benefits of deep ripping - it's pretty interesting to see the difference in plants of ripped and non-ripped soil. 

We hope that everyone is well and truely into harvest now across the EP and that you can take time out now and then to enjoy the festive season. 

Small crop grants

Are you interesting in trying summer crops, mixed winter crops, improving establishment on dry saline land (magnesia patches) or any other activities to reduce wind erosion risk or increase soil carbon through the use of plants on your place? If so, it would be worth talking to Josh Telfer, Sustainable Ag Officer, about accessing a soil cover options demonstration grant to help with these issues. Josh can help you with the application process.

For more information visit the EP Landscape Board's grants page. And read more about multi-species pastures and cover crops in the next two stories.

Multi-species case study

As part of our Regenerative Agriculture Program, a series of case studies are progressively being published featuring farmers from the region.

We recently published a case study with Ungarra farmer Terry Young, looking at his experience with our multi-species small grants program, as well as his thoughts on regenerative agriculture more broadly. Have a read.

Use of multi-species approach on shallow sloping land at Tumby Bay.

Different roles for multi-species pastures and cover crops

There has been a growing interest in using a sown multi-species pasture/plant approach across Eyre Peninsula. As part of our Sustainable Agriculture program being delivered by AIR EP, some of these different approaches are being investigated and compared.

While some of the species are in common use across the EP, the actual reasons they are being used, and how they are managed, does vary, and it is exciting to see some of the outcomes that have been achieved. These include:

  • Using different species combinations to improve the amount of early cover while still having robust weed control options.
  • Improving summer cover following winter pastures, particularly to have additional height, and surface cover to provide protection from intense wind events.
  • Improving grazing quality, quantity, diversity and also a wider availability window. Some research has shown that when livestock have some choice in regard to pasture intake through greater diversity of pasture, compared to monospecies, their consumption will increase (typically intake is maximised with three or more choices). Also the use of diversity in regard to growth and maturities, allows the sown pasture to respond to seasonal variation, and if managed correctly, maintains pasture quality for longer (PROGRAZETM manual).
  • Improving water infiltration on sloping land. In this scenario, land that was rocky and sloping was carefully sown with a combination of forage legumes, cereals and brassica species, to provide surface cover to slow run-off and improve infiltration, add nitrogen into nitrogen-limited pastures, all while providing high quality forage through autumn, winter and spring. Because of the higher amount of dry matter grown, it then can be managed to maintain more cover, which then improves infiltration for any summer rainfall as well.
  • Providing a way to get the nitrogen fixing benefit of legumes without having the soil cover problems of either a grain legume or grass-free pure medic pasture, as well as widen the feed window, allowing more flexible grazing systems with more grown in winter and early spring.
  • Allowing for more herbaceous pasture which can have faster growth rates for lambs and other livestock if managed well due to higher digestibility and protein; and lower fibre than pure grass-based pasture.
  • Using multiple, highly competitive pasture species, which when combined provides season-long competition against weeds that would otherwise need interventions that limit dry matter production.
  • Allowing for more biological diversity, different strategies in terms of rooting depths, nutrient cycling, pest control etc., which is an expanding area of research.

While multi-species swards or pastures can require more thinking to manage in terms of establishment and pest management, they can also provide more functions and roles, to address challenges in more monoculture pastures.

A bare Mallee seeps site in May 2020 (top) and then in September 2021 (bottom) with puccinellia covering scalds & bringing salty topsoil back to health.

Puccinellia taking hold on EP Mallee seeps

By Chris McDonough, Insight Extension for Agriculture

The salt tolerant grass puccinellia is being successfully used within the Eyre Peninsula Landscape Board Mallee seeps project to cover bare scalds and bring salty topsoil back to health. Mallee seep sites are often found at the base of deep sandy rises and are driven by the formation of shallow perched water tables.

The main management strategies are to both:

  • stop the flow of water into these areas, often with strategic lucerne establishment to intercept the excess water flows; and
  • establish living perennial soil cover on bare scalds, to help reduce evaporation (particularly over the summer months) and stop water wicking to the surface and leaving it’s salt behind.

Demonstration sites are already showing a return to health of saline scalded soils once this is achieved. Soil testing in September at two EP seep demonstration sites have shown an average 70% reduction in 0-10 cm soil salinity and an average 40% reduction in 10-20 cm soil salinity after only one year since establishment. While these and other sites will continue to be measured, this trend brings hope that many of these scalded seep sites can be rehabilitated back to cropping in the future.

…by any means possible
Puccinellia seed was found to be in short supply earlier this season, but fortunately I had some bags of seed heads I had cut earlier from a rehabilitated seep site near Karoonda. These were then shaken and thrown over the lightly cultivated site at Michael Weiss’ seep site near Rudall during a wet few days in June. The results have been surprisingly good and the large bare scald is covering well. These plants should self-seed and fill in the gaps in the coming years.

This funding opportunity has been supported by the Eyre Peninsula Landscape Board, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Ripping treatments showing greater above ground biomass and better root mass than the unripped treatments.

Deep ripping project concludes

A deep ripping project has recently been completed, with some interesting results. Hosted by AIR EP and delivered by David Davenport of Davenport Soil Consulting during 2020 and 2021, the National Landcare Program funded project was about increasing adoption of new techniques combining physical, chemical and plant based interventions to improve soil function on Eyre Peninsula.

Most of the agricultural area of Eyre Peninsula has subsoil constraints that limit root growth and restrict plant access to soil water and nutrients. This reduces pasture production and crop yield with the greatest impacts occurring in adverse seasons.

The project used existing soil mapping supported by landholder input to identify 10 sites on different soil types distributed across Eyre Peninsula. Subsoil constraints were identified through soil sampling and a range of amendments including carbon based and commercial mineral fertiliser products, were incorporated to 30-40 cm with equipment that is readily available to farmers.

A trial plan with three replicates of randomised plots was developed for each site. Up to seven amendments were applied to the surface and then were incorporated up to 40 cm depth. Incorporation on nine sites was undertaken with a ripper with inclusion plates and with a rotary spader on one site.

Plant production data including plant numbers, biomass at flowering and yield was collected for all sites. Grain size and protein levels were also collected for relevant sites. Targeted treatments had soil moisture, mineralised nitrogen and bioassays of soil enzymes measured at germination. Soil bulk density and soil chemistry was also collected on targeted treatments post-harvest.

Incorporating organic material and topsoil has so far mainly been used in sandy soils with compacted A2 horizons. This project has extended the technology to other soil types including calcareous soils that do not have a physical constraint. Gains observed in crop growth on these soils have created considerable interest and led to several landholders conducting larger paddock scale demonstrations this year. The other major outcome from this project has been the strong correlation between higher levels of phosphatase enzyme and Colwell phosphorus in the biochar + phosphorus treatment. This relationship is being explored further in other projects.

The most surprising outcome of the project was the plant growth response to deep ripping with inclusion plates on the two most highly calcareous soils of the project. Although a very dry winter and early spring restricted yield gains, the early growth differences on both sites were obvious.

Landholders in the region have undertaken further demonstrations including ripping with inclusion plates on these soils in 2021. Early results are promising with ripping treatments showing greater above ground biomass and better root mass than the unripped treatments, as shown in the photo above.

See the AIR EP website for more information about this project.

Eyre Peninsula plant growth index.

Seasonal summary for the Eyre Peninsula region

The ‘Erosion Risk on Agricultural Land’ report produced quarterly by the Department for Environment and Water (DEW), highlights what a lot of us in the region already know - rainfall was “highest-on-record in northern parts of Eyre Peninsula”.

DEW produces a ‘Plant Growth Anomaly’ map that displays the plant growth on crops and pastures; and compares them to the past 10 years. For most of the EP, this year has been average, but there is a cluster of areas in the Franklin Harbour council area, and land around the far west that had some land in the 25% below the average category. Generally however, the EP performs much better than a lot of other regions in SA during this period.

The report raised concerns that the availability and high prices of fertiliser, fuel and herbicides, might result in less spraying of summer weeds to conserve moisture. It could also cause more producers to run more livestock, increase grazing area and reduce cropping area. This could be problematic in the Mallee areas where annual pastures do not provide the amount and type of growth that crops and crop stubbles do to provide protection against wind erosion.

This is likely a valid point, but hopefully landholders will take this into account and adjust their management accordingly. The BOM is forecasting average to above average rainfall and for above average temperatures for the December-February period.

The Plant growth index is average green-ness (using the MODIS fractional photosynthetic vegetation cover data) – this gives an indication of productivity.

The above map shows the ‘anomaly’ of plant growth compared with the 10-year average (for 10 months from January to October) for 2008-2017. The data is derived from MODIS Fractional Cover satellite data.

Sponsorships for EP women in ag to attend conference

We are offering two local women the opportunity to attend WoTL’s women in ag conference next year.

The Thriving Women 2022 Conference will focus on the “Impact of Us”, acknowledging and fostering the impact women are having on their own lives, businesses, communities and industries. It’s also about securing a sustainable future for women living and working in agriculture and associated industries.

The conference will be held on February 21 and 22 at Hanhdorf.

We have sponsorship packages to support two Eyre Peninsula women to attend the conference. The package includes the two-day conference ticket and two nights’ accommodation in Hanhdorf (on February 20th and 21st). Successful candidates will need to cover their own travel costs and arrangements, to and from the event.

If you would like to apply for one of the sponsorship packages, please fill out this application form and return it to us by Friday, December 17, 2021 via email to EPLBAdmin@sa.gov.au.

Find out more about the conference.

We expect to notify successful candidates before Christmas.

Useful (and free) subscriptions

Need some reading while you're on the header? Or perhaps you want more ag info delivered to your inbox. These are some suggestions:

The Fast Break and The Very Fast Break
Get the latest seasonal climate risk information, including details of oceanic and atmospheric climate driver activities for Victoria, South Australia, Southern NSW and Tasmania.

AIR EP newsletter
Agricultural events and information specific to Eyre Peninsula farmers.

Soils Community of Practice newsletter (Vic)
You will receive regular newsletters containing news items, events and announcements that are of interest to our broad soils community. Even though this group is based in Victoria, we find it contains information that is relevant across the ag sector.


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

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