Building soil health - and a healthy community

Building soil health - and a healthy community

Friday, June 07, 2013


Colin Seis Shane JoyceTim WrightBill & Rhonda Daly

Colin Seis, Shane Joyce, Tim Wright and Bill and Rhonda Daly. (Click image to jump to presentation summary.)

This week saw the last of our Soil Health webinars, brought to you in partnership with the National Landcare Facilitator, come to a successful conclusion. Over 670 people registered for one or more of the webinars, able to interact and ask questions of our presenters during the course of the webinar. These webinars and the questions and answers generated now provide an ongoing resource for anyone interested in learning more about soil health – why it’s important, how to build it and how to monitor and measure to extend positive results.

If you don’t have time to watch them in full, our previous blog provided a summary of Part 1 of the webinar series, and Parts 2 and 3 are summarised below.

PART 2: How do we practically regenerate soil health?

COLIN SEIS. A grazier and cropper on the property Winona, near Gulgong in NSW, Colin is the leader in ‘Pasture Cropping’ and his techniques are being trialled more widely in Australia and overseas.

  • Colin runs a mixed-enterprise 2000 acre (840 hectare) property, including 500 acres of crops (wheat, oats, rye), 4000 Merino sheep wool and meat production, cattle trading, native grass seed and working kelpie dogs.
  • Farms need healthy, functioning carbon-rich soil. These will require less fertiliser, have better water holding capacity, will increase crop and pasture yield and reduce costs.
  • Enabling farm pastures to function like grasslands results in healthy carbon-rich soil
  • Colin changed his practices and regenerated his soil health by:
    - Adopting low-input agricultural methods
    - Reducing fertiliser inputs and stopping the use of pesticides
    - Focusing on having 100% ground cover
    - Starting time-controlled grazing
    - Developing and implementing ‘pasture cropping’
  • image of a harvester in a crop
  • Pasture Cropping is a land mgt technique where annual crops are zero-tilled into dormant perennial grass and was developed by Colin Seis and Daryl Cluff ‘over a few beers’ in 1995.
  • Pasture Cropping produces crops for grain and/or grazing, improves pastures by stimulating perennial grass species and species diversity, improves soil health and soil organic carbon and improves ecological function.
  • Pasture Cropping allows multiple uses from a single paddock while building, not degrading soil health.
  • Over a 10 year period, the soil on Colin Seis’ property now has 204% more organic carbon and holds 200% more water. Soil nutrients and trace elements have increased by an average of 172%.
  • Colin’s inputs are lower, stock numbers are up, crop yields have been maintained, income is higher and soil health continues improving.
  • Agriculture can be more profitable and regenerative, but practices need to function more closely to Nature’s original design.


SHANE JOYCE. A grazier from Dukes Plain on the Brigalow Belt outside of Theodore in Central Queensland, Shane is successfully managing his grazing and regenerating vegetation to build soil health and deliver increased productivity.

image of pasture amongst eucalypt
  • Dukes plain has certified organic beef cattle breeding and fattening enterprises, along with non-certified beef cattle fattening, backgrounding, and trading enterprises.
  • When the Joyces took up management of Dukes Plain in 1982, soils and pastures were degraded and timber regrowth was abundant. They set a goal to have soils in the best possible condition.
  • Shane sought advice in changing farm practices, undertaking courses, such as Grazing for Profit, workshops, field days and reading widely (including Permaculture Two by Bill Mollison, The One Straw Revolution by Masinobu Fukuoka, Water for Every Farm by P.A. Yeomans and Alex Podlinsky’s Biodynamic lectures).
  • Shane admits he’s made mistakes along the way, including clearing much of the land with timber re-growth, which now yields less than similar land that was not cleared, but he re-phrases these as learning opportunities.
  • image of grass around base of a tree
  • Planned cell grazing has been key to Shane’s success in regenerating soil health. The techniques that have worked for him include:
    - application of biodynamic preparations
    - high density planned grazing
    - appropriate rest for pastures
    - tree retention
    - planning and monitoring (including grazing charts, fixed-point photographic records)
    - ensuring everyone involved is committed to the practices
  • Benefits that have been attained on Dukes Plain include:
    - Improved soil and pasture health
    - increased carrying capacity
    - water use efficiency
    - deeper-rooted pastures
    - diversity in fauna and flora
    - easier stock handling
    - reduced production costs
    - less stress.
  • Shane advises, if making a change in your farming practices, make a transition rather than ‘going cold turkey’ to ensure that production continues as new methods are adopted and farms can remain financially viable.


PART 3: How do we measure, monitor and extend effective practices?

TIM WRIGHT. A grazier from Lana, near Uralla in NSW, Tim's monitoring of rainfall and stocking rates provides evidence of how his holistic practices have supported an increased carrying capacity regardless of rainfall.

images of bare and lush pasture
  • Tim investigated alternative approaches to farming 20 years ago as soil health was poor and farm management costly. He trialled cell grazing and eventually adopted planned grazing and holistic management.
  • Over time Tim has increased his number of paddocks from 35 (average of 240 acres each) to 250 (average of 32 acres each). This enables him to better manage his stock for improved soil health benefits and to provide sufficient rest and recovery time for pastures.
  • Resting is a key management tool resulting in increased productivity through profit, using holistic management principles.
  • Tim has recovered the cost of all of his subdivisions within 2 years - through increased productivity and therefore profits.
  • Monitoring and measurement is central to Tim’s management. He bases this on the Holistic Management foundations blocks of water and mineral cycles, sun energy flows and community dynamics.
  • He has undertaken a number of Landcare-funded trials of planned compared with continuous grazing, with fixed point monitoring across various transects on his property. The Botany Department from the University of New England undertook studies of the mineral cycle in these trial areas, recording very positive results for soil health and nutrient transfer in the planned grazing areas.
  • Tim believes that it is important to have an action plan to manage your stock and respond to what you read in the landscape (eg, with drought or growth periods).
  • Tim’s records of rainfall and stocking rate from a period of over 30 years demonstrate that, due to his grazing management techniques and the water-holding qualities of his healthy soils, he has been able to increase and maintain stock levels – even with reduced rainfall.


BILL & RHONDA DALY. Running a grazing and cropping on the property Milgadara, near Young in NSW, measurement and monitoring have been key to the Daly's understanding of their landscape, enabling them to balance soil structural, biological and mineral components.

  • Across 1250 hectares, Bill and Rhonda crop canola, wheat, oats and lupins (300 hectares) and run a self-replacing merino flock of 5500 sheep and a prime lamb enterprise. They also have 120 head of steer which are traded annually.
  • The Dalys were inspired to change from previous conventional practices which had resulted in “dead” soils, with poor structure, imbalanced minerals, no visible signs of life, increasing input costs whilst animal nutrition and health and profitability was declining.
  • They adopted soil health management and fertility practices that enhanced microbial activity – bringing their soil back to life. These included:
    - producing on-farm Humus Compost
    - Reducing soluble fertilisers
    - Stopping application of single super
    - Applying microbial compost tea
    - Retaining crop stubble
    - Shortening rotations and introducing minimum tillage
    - Undersowing with legumes
    - Planting more trees
  • image of healthy oat roots with soil
  • Measurement and monitoring have been key to the Daly’s soil health success. Using the senses to observe signs of life in the soil, feel soil texture, smell for sweetness are all good indicators of soil health.
  • The Dalys have invested time into understanding how to interpret soil tests and how to respond. They undertake comprehensive soil tests, which show total, exchangeable and soluble mineral pools; and plant leaf or tissue tests to show if plants are absorbing nutrients measured in the soil.
  • Minerals in the total nutrient pool can become available if robust and diverse microbial activity is encouraged. The greater the microbial population in the rhizosphere (soil around roots), the greater the nutrient absorption by the plant.
  • In addition, the Dalys test animal performance, lambing percentage from birth to weaning, weight gain yield of your carcass at time of slaughter, wool quality.
  • The Dalys have gained many benefits by building their soil health, including cost savings, increased yields, improved plant and animal health and soil carbon.
  • With the right mineral and microbial balances, the Dalys have been able to build 10cm of topsoil in 2 years on cropping land.
  • Improved soil health and soil organic carbon has resulted in retention of an additional 56,000L of water per hectare on the Daly’s property.
  • The Daly’s wool production increased by 2kg per head and attracted a premium price due to its quality – brightness, comfort factor and low vegetable matter.
  • Profitability in farming is important and the Dalys are achieving that with their regenerative farming, as well as 'happy healthy families' .
  • Learn more from the Dalys at their Field Day on 24 July, 'Milgadara', Young. Details coming soon on our Events page.


READ WEBINAR Q&A (includes questions we were unable to get to during the webinar due to time constraints).


Thanks to everyone who participated, for your wide-ranging questions, interesting follow-up discussions and for helping us to build a community who understands the importance of healthy soils. Hopefully these webinars have inspired you to commence - or keep up - managing your soil health!

The Soils for Life Team