image from the Briandra Field Day

Brian Wilson discusses soil restoration at the Soils for Life Field Day on Briandra, near Mingay VIC, 2 April 2014.

Too much water in soils may not be a common problem, but in the Western Plain of Victoria, both boggy and poor soils can be a limiting challenge for farmers. The Soils for Life Field Day on Briandra on 2 April demonstrated how Brian Wilson overcame these challenges and restored productive, healthy soils to his Mingay farm.

Adopting a bio-farming approach has been key to Brian Wilson's success in restoring soil health on his property. During the field day he discussed the many benefits he has achieved through this approach, also explaining the challenges he has encountered and the need to persist through trial and error. Key points of discussion included:

image from the Briandra Field Day
  • Cropping and crop rotation changes
    - Brian manages a 3 to 5 year rotation of Beans (Aquadulce) > Canola > Barley > Field Peas > Wheat
    - Brian explained that no additional Nitrogen is usually needed after the beans crop. Moreover, Aquadulce beans have double the biomass of Faba beans, providing huge power to increase organic matter in soils.
  • Establishing narrow raised beds to improve soil drainage.
  • Active stubble management, incorporating stubble and using cellulose-digesting fungi to help with stubble breakdown
    - Controlling slugs in canola sown into wheat stubble has proved challenging, however by changing rotation to plant canola following beans, which after grazing has a much lower stubble load, this is manageable.
    - Brian has not burnt stubble for 8 years.
    - Brian suggested that there should be a focus on 'Integrated Fungus Management'.
  • Improving soil health and structure, and subsequently water holding capacity
  • Increasing levels of beneficial insects
  • Increasing productivity and mixing enterprises
  • Incorporating rotational grazing in winter (1 week grazing followed by 4 week spell) and grazing of stubble
  • Reducing reliance on conventional fertilisers and inputs
    - Brian noted that he has achieved the ideal 5:1 Calcium: Magnesium ratio, but that it is difficult to keep everything in balance, with low levels of Sulphur in some paddocks a current issue.

Soils for Life scientific advisor and soil microbiologist, Walter Jehne, gave an informative presentation on managing soil health in cropping enterprises. He emphasised the benefit of increasing soil organic matter and its buffering capacity against issues like acidity and salinity.

Walter also outlined the range of options available for managing high (8-9 tonne) stubble loads:

  • 1. Leave and do nothing. Becomes phytotoxic and breeds more disease. Yields poor results and is a poor use of nutrients.
  • 2. Leave in situ and add products, such as Cellulose Digesting Fungi + Fungi Food. Results in better stubble break down, but involves time and cost to set up and apply
  • 3. Grazing. The use of densely stocked ruminant animals to bio-digest stubble starts the compost process and returns nutrients to the soil
  • 4. Remove for off-field composting. Can value add to the product for compost and reapply to the field
  • 5. Burn. Has many negative impacts such as oxidisation and mineralises nutrients making them less available to plants and loses Carbon

Learn more about Brian and Sandra Wilson's farming practices in the Briandra case study, Using raised beds and beneficial fungi to restore soil health.

Thanks to the team at LawrieCo for their efforts in bringing this Field Day into fruition.

This event was sponsored by:

Sponsors - LawrieCo, Landmark, Millicent Farm Supplies, MG Trading, Elders, AIRR


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