Monitoring farm actions and results

Shan and Shane Joyce

Image courtesy of The Australian Women's Weekly

The Importance of Monitoring

I cannot stress enough the value of monitoring as a tool to be used in all facets of farming.

Here at Kumbartcho we started our monitoring program right from the beginning. On our former property Dukes Plain we did not start the monitoring till 1995, some 12 years after we took up the management.

image of treed pasture land

Vegetation growth on Dukes Plain

There, within 6 months of beginning, we had saved our selves in the order of $40 per hectare, which we would have spent on re-clearing timber regrowth.

Yes, within 6 months we were able to demonstrate from our grazing chart records that our timbered country was out yielding our re-cleared, re-pastured land. We have now been able to demonstrate with 20 years of yield data, that our re-cleared country has such a miniscule increase in yield, that it would take 98 years to re-coup the cost of clearing!

Nutrient Availability

Here at Kumbartcho we took soil and water samples when we inspected the property.

We established what elements are low in availability.

What actions then have we taken as a result of these soil tests?

Action one was to begin to apply the biodynamic preparations (Biodynamic Soil Activator) within hours of settlement.

In the first 48 hours we had sprayed along all boundary and internal fence lines with soil activator.

We began to plant trees (with soil activator under the planting sites).

We brought these trees from our former property Dukes Plain, deliberately to carry the biodynamic impulse, which was well established in the soils there.

The property has now had three applications of Biodynamic Soil Activator, the first fence line application and two full property applications. The last two applications have been timed for autumn and winter, deliberately to “prime” the soils for spring.

During winter the “forces” from the cosmos are streaming into the earth, so any soil amendments we apply in the autumn/winter period will be “pulled” into the soil, and accumulate there, ready to “burst” into life in spring /summer.

Pasture Status & Yield

Our next monitoring action was to establish fixed-point photo sites in all paddocks (18 in all).

We now have February, end March, and end June photos from these sites.

Fixed-point monitoring photos showing improvement in pasture condition

Fixed point monitoring photos for two paddocks.
Top to bottom: February, March and end June 2014 (click for larger image)

The property was rested (livestock removed) for five and a half months to allow pastures to fully recover from grazing. Livestock were re-introduced on 16 June.

Our third monitoring tool is to keep records of paddock yields.

Informed Decision Making

Our next soil samples will be taken 12 months into our management of the property. The results of a combination of rest, biodynamic preparations and grazing management will then be revealed by what changes there are in nutrient availability.

The soil sampling will also be done in tandem with plant tissue testing. This will reveal what nutrients the plants are taking up, and what are lacking.

No tissue test was done with first soil samples due to lack of tissue to sample!

We do our soil tests through the Environmental Analysis Labrarotory at Southern Cross University in Lismore.

Available nutrients, total nutrients, and tissue samples are done in order that we can better work out how effective our soil amendments have been, and what additional amendments we may need to make.

Without ongoing monitoring it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of our farming actions, so monitor, monitor, monitor.

We are fully committed to our monitoring program as it gives us a “baseline” from which we can then measure the effectiveness of our various actions.