image from Shannon Vale Field Day

Agronomist Bart Davidson shares how improving soil fertility can combat weed problems

Soils for Life Field Day at Shannon Vale Station

The first field day hosted on a Soils for Life case study property was held on 21 November 2012, in glorious spring weather, on Greg and Sally Chappell’s Shannon Vale Station, near Glen Innes, northern New South Wales.

The event was planned around 80 expected registrations, but attracted more than 120 enthusiastic participants from a range of backgrounds. Around 40% indicated that they attended to ‘gain knowledge to change their practices to focus on soil health’, whilst just over 30% stated that they are ‘currently actively managing their soils but are always interested in knowing more.

Soils for Life chairman Major-General Michael Jeffery opened the event with an informative and convincing talk about the need for regenerative land management to support food and fibre production for a growing world population - and the vital role of farmers have to play in that scenario. As stewards of the farm landscape, it is our farmers who can sustainably manage its soil, water and vegetation, and maintain the productivity and biodiversity of what is our nation’s prime strategic asset.

Following General Jeffery was a presentation from the host, Greg Chappell. Greg spoke on the practicalities of managing a change from traditional methods of farming that had, over decades, depleted the structure and fertility of the soil, polluted waterways, and left a plethora of weeds across the property; in Greg’s words "a weed infested sand pit". It was with both satisfaction and pride that Greg talked about his and Sally’s planning and hard work that has delivered the current landscape of high fertility, almost zero weeds, clear waterways and a high carrying capacity all year round.

Greg’s presentation was followed by a very clear and enlightening presentation by Bart Davidson, an agronomist who specialises in high performance landscape regeneration. Bart explained, in layman’s terms, the technical and scientific basis for processes undertaken by the Greg and Sally, over the past decade, to regenerate Shannon Vale Station. He outlined the key steps in their approach:

  • set goals
  • perform a stocktake of soil and plantlife to identify limiting factors
  • determine a strategy for each land class, taking the stocktake into consideration
  • implement actions with the right tool for the job, refine as you go
  • measure results and refine for the following year

The presentations were followed by a lively Q&A session that indicated the high level of interest of the participants in the multi-faceted story being unfolded by the presentations.

After lunch the participants travelled in groups to the paddocks to see varying stages of the results that can be achieved with mulching, compost-based fertiliser application and managed grazing pressure. On Shannon Vale Station these techniques have enabled the control African love grass and other weeds and, at the same time, built soil fertility and regenerated mixed pastures of high nutrition and variety.

image from Shannon Vale Field Day

Greg Chappell shares his story of adopting regenerative landscape management practices

The event was very much a community event and could not have been planned and undertaken without the enthusiastic support of the Glen Innes Natural Resources Advisory Committee (GLENRAC). The team coordinated by Kylie Falconer and supported by Tanya, Lucy and Jeff, played an invaluable part in the outstanding success of the event.

As well as organising the many behind-the-scenes preparations that are vital for an efficiently run event, Kylie acted as master of ceremonies and bell-ringer to keep the show running on time.

Adding to community involvement and support, Glen Innes Lions Club provided lunch.

Feedback from people who attended the event was overwhelmingly positive, with all 80 participants who responded saying that they would recommend attending Soils for Life activities to others. Most respondents noted that the information provided was new to them and that the presentations were interesting and informative.

The Shannon Vale Station on-site team comprising Greg and Sally, Tim, Stephanie and Keegan, supported by agronomist Bart Davidson, compost guru Bruce Piccone and neighbouring Mann Valley carbon farmers, all contributed to ensure that the event was enjoyable and informative.

And the weather? .... Perfect!

You can check out photos from the day on the Soils for Life Facebook page - www.facebook.com/SoilsforLife or learn more about the Chappell's experience by reading their case study.

The Shannon Vale field day is the first on a number of such Soils for Life events to be conducted in 2013 in a number of different locations around Australia. If you are interested in being involved as a participant or as a host for an event, contact us.

The Soils for Life Team


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