image from Dukes Plain Field Day

Property owner Shane Joyce shares his manage techniques and production outcomes to interested participants at the Dukes Plain Field Day, 3 July 2013.

Dukes Plain, Theodore, Queensland, welcomed the Soils for Life Field Day on 3 July with a warm winter sun, at least for those of us from the south - the locals started the day with jackets! The birds were chirping, continually – not just atmospheric, but a great indicator of the biodiversity thriving on Dukes Plain.

For orientation, Dukes Plain is just under a three hour drive south of Rockhampton, and around 250km due west of Bundaberg, as the crow flies. We were delighted with how many turned up for the day, around 50 people, with a number of our participants driving up to 400km that morning to attend.

Shane and Shan Joyce’s garden gazebo made a pleasant location for the presentations…

image of Alasdair MacLeod and Shane Joyce
  • Soils for Life Board member Alasdair MacLeod talked about the big picture importance of landscape regeneration and the opportunities for Australian agricultural production with growing markets, particularly in Asia. He also outlined how Soils for Life is working to encourage wide adoption, across Australia, of the regenerative practices identified through our case studies.
  • Shane Joyce shared aspects of his management approach used on Dukes Plain to achieve sustainable production outcomes and a thriving landscape. Maintaining and improving ground cover is a priority, and all aspects – livestock, soil health, biodiversity and the broader environment - are considered. Shane clearly focuses on the sum of all parts rather than just individual elements working in isolation.
  • image of Terry McCosker
  • Terry McCosker of Resource Consulting Services (RCS) discussed the interaction between grazing management, water infiltration and healthy ecosystem services, in a practical and understandable presentation. He also filled in for David McLean, who unfortunately couldn’t make it on the day, to talk about how blade ploughing cost Dukes Plain money. Eighteen years of data have shown that there was no added benefit to production on cleared land in comparison to naturally treed pastures.

  • image of Joanna Gangemi
  • Joanna Gangemi from the Fitzroy Basin Association outlined the FBA Grazing Best Management Practices (BMP) program – tools available to benchmark on-farm outcomes against best practice outcomes regardless of management type. Joanna noted that it can be hard for farmers to separate themselves from business when they live where they work, accordingly, such tools can help.
  • And Ben O’Hara from the Queensland Trust for Nature, who had to take the lunchtime speaker place due to our full schedule, highlighted the QTFN’s conservation program on private land such as a section of Dukes Plain.

Meanwhile, tea, coffee and juice were on tap and a never-ending morning and afternoon tea of homemade delights that almost made packed lunches unnecessary!

A long convoy of 4WDs toured through the paddocks in the afternoon, occasionally greeted by curious cattle and flanked by brigalow scrub or tall stands of eucalypts flush with pasture grasses. On the ground we discussed the different soils in the pits dug the previous day and the various grazing management techniques – mob size and duration of graze and rest - to continue to improve soil and pasture. Refreshingly, Shane was open to admitting that he’s still learning and adjusting to obtain better landscape outcomes, willing to ask the experts on hand for new information.

image of Hugh Lovel

Everyone in attendance learnt a little more when guest paddock facilitator, Hugh Lovel, identified a particular shrub (Caparis Spinosa) which from colour and taste he could determine was more effectively cycling certain nutrients. He explained that in high magnesium clays, these plants bring in sulphur, loosening the clay and unlocking nutrients. A quick dig with the spade showed much softer soils in proximity to the shrub, and more palatable pasture grasses were also clumped around it. A perfect example of the benefits of biodiversity in action!

A sign of the success of the day was how long we spent out in the paddock, asking questions and sharing knowledge, and how many people stayed to continue chatting well after the Q&A session was over.

Thanks to all those who made the effort to attend (from near and far), Charisse Edwards and Honour Johnstone from our  local supporting organisation, Dawson Catchment Coordinating Association, our presenters, and especially to our hosts, Shane and Shan Joyce and their great support crew who helped to make the day possible and a really enjoyable success.

Check out the photos on our Facebook page.

Read on for a quick summary of further key points from the day...


  • Rainfall & Pasture
    - Much more water is held in soil rich with organic matter.
    - Dukes Plain paddocks now have up to 4% soil carbon. When neighbouring properties dry off, comments are received on how green it remains on Dukes Plain.
    - The benefit of perennial plants is considerable in terms of capturing rainfall.
    - Recent tests by RCS have shown significantly greater infiltration of rainfall into soil with perennial groundcover than that covered with litter or just bare soil. Amazingly, a second application test a day later reveals even greater infiltration into perennial groundcover. Think of the difference this would make during floods and longer-term moisture availability.

Rainwater infiltration per hour

Day 1

Day 2

Perennial groundcover




45 mm


Bare Soil



  • Rest
    - Root depth increases substantially after 60 days rest (demonstrated by lengths of bamboo!). This provides more to ‘lean on’ and access soil moisture when weather gets dry.
  • Tree Cover
    - Condensation and moisture increases with tree cover.
    - Surface evaporation is reduced, providing more water to draw on.
    - Tree cover makes the surrounding area cooler in summer and warmer in winter (studies have show to around 4 degrees).
    - On Dukes Plain, due to tree cover they are now going through winter without frost damage to pastures in colder country.
  • Biodynamics
    - Play an important role in management on Dukes Plain – it’s one element that Shane wishes he had started earlier
    - Biodynamic ‘soil activator’ comprises horn manure, horn silica and compost preparation. It’s best to use these together to build health (nutrients etc), and then target application for specific results (visit the Biodynamic Agriculture Australia website for further information)
  • Fire
    - Fire is not used on pasture at Dukes Plain.
    - Lightening strikes occasionally start fires on the range, which are managed with firebreaks to protect the pasture.
    - Any pastures that happen to be burnt are locked up for a full season after fire. This supports regrowth and helps to move to more palatable, productive grasses.
  • Drought Management
    - On Dukes Plain the aim is to come out of a drought better than went in. This relies on animal management, such as stocking rates.
    - A trading herd of non-certified cattle is run, which fluctuates between 250-2500 head, depending on the season.
  • Organic Certified Breeders
    - Calves raised on Dukes Plain are Certified Organic which is value-adding to the business.
  • Birdlife
    - Has increased substantially with increased habitat and food sources.
    - A variety of birds provide a strong indicator of landscape health.
  • Elemental Beings
    - Air, water, fire, earth are all valid management considerations.
    - The whole system is more than the sum of parts, for example, don’t just look at soil in isolation.
image of Dukes Plain


  • Grazing Management and water
    - Graziers are first and foremost ‘grass farmers’
    - Poor management = poor production and sick ecosystem
    - Good management = abundance
    - The Carbon and lifecycle is continuous – we’re just a part of it. We can sequester more carbon through our management
    - Some conventional reports show pasture productivity decline with tree increase, however we must consider ‘grazing effects’ versus ‘tree effects’. Dukes Plain shows how management can encourage pasture growth under trees by allowing adequate rest periods. Grass around trees has higher protein and nutrient levels and is hence grazed first (tree effect). Without sufficient recovery periods, these areas are easily grazed-out (grazing effect).
    - Understand the importance of photosynthesis – energy from sunlight. Need to ensure sufficient plant matter to capture and convert this energy.
    - Muddy overflow after rain is a loss of soil and nutrients
    - Grazing management without foundation in ecological principles is not valuable. Must consider rest, stocking rates, carrying capacity/feed available (influenced by temperature and rain)
    - Plan your grazing. Monitor and manage. Grazing charts of stock days a hectare (SDH)/100mm rain shows water use efficiency
  • Soil Carbon
    - New Australian technology in soil analysis is providing more consistent soil carbon measurement.
    - We should to look beyond just the top 10cm when doing carbon measurement (eg up to a metre)
    - You need to seriously look at the cost/benefit of Carbon farming if you are exploring it as an option.
  • Ecosystem services
    - Ecosystem services are the 'freebies' from sun, soil, air and living species
    - Signs of a healthy ecosystem are the structural, mineral and biological health of soil
    - Biology in soils very important – part of the soil food web
    - What happens above also happens below in plant and animal life (eg. succession from weeds to annuals to undesirable perennials then desirable perennials above the surface is reflected by improving biology underneath)
    - There are no quick fixes – we need to understand and respect ecological timeframes
image of Terry McCosker


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