Highlights from the Soil Health Innovation Tour 2018

Nine members of Central Queensland Soil Health Systems, along with a group of 19 growers from Far North Queensland, attended a Soil Health Innovation Tour in March 2018. Agroecologist, David Hardwick from Soil Land Food travelled with the group to provide interpretation of the on-farm practices.

A visit to the Environmental Analysis Laboratory EAL provided insight into soil analysis techniques.There are differing methods for soil analysis and it is important to know the different methods offered by one laboratory in comparison to another. Laboratories set their parameters at low, acceptable, and high, according to the importance placed on soluble nutrient availability and or biological function.

The recommendations provided by their agronomists for quantities of mineral inputs may differ depending on this. You shouldn’t be too reliant on one soil test, especially on large properties where soil tests represent large potentially diverse soil types. The message is build up a database overtime, test, test and test again. You will be able to see trends overtime rather than being reliant on one set of data which may not be entirely reflective of the conditions, it’s just a snapshot in time.

Another stop, Bingara Living Classroom provides a diversity of functioning regenerative techniques to observe. Specifically, cover cropping was the focus of discussions here. Plant diversity is essential for creating soil health. There are many ways to create plant diversity. The common practise of growing mono-cultures and at most two mono-cultures per year in a field, is simply not enough plant diversity. Those farmers pushing the envelope try for 3 to 4 mono-cultures per field but even this isn’t enough to actually improve soil biological function and therefore soil health. Instead of this many rotations you could look at options like dual cropping (growing two crops together) or a multi-species cover crop, to put that necessary plant diversity into a field.

Kalfresh at Kalbar are one of the largest carrot producers in the Southern hemisphere. They have transitioned over the past 5 years from conventional agriculture systems to using regenerative techniques, like creating their own compost. The take home message here was one of validation, the change from conventional systems to regenerative systems with a soil health focus will take time. Maybe 3-4 years or 5-6 years however the benefits in the long term do pay off.

Finally, on this journey to soil health most farmers you will meet on this path will be willing to share their knowledge and mistakes with you so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but the principles are few. The man who grasps the principles can successfully select his own method”.