Strong interest in soil health from Mackay Whitsunday farmers

Jun 26, 2015 | ,
Simon Mattsson, cane farmer, talks about soil health to stakeholders at his Marian property.
Simon Mattsson (cane farmer and Nuffield Scholar) talks soil health to stakeholders at his Marian property.
Simon Mattsson with some of the many different plants on his cane farm.
The trial is focused on introducing plant diversity. including the integration of radish, turnip, chickpea, soybean, common vetch, sunflowers, cereal rye and oats (planted beside the sugarcane stool after harvest).

Farmers across the region are showing an unsurpassed interest in soil health, with more than 100 local growers gathering for this year’s Soil Health Field Day in Marian.

Event coordinator and Marian grower, Simon Mattsson, said the challenge of restoring and improving soil health was one of the biggest issues facing sugar producers in today’s market.

“The bar has been set too low for soil health,” Mr Mattsson said. “While there is a general awareness that soil health is not what it should be, I firmly believe many growers are unaware of just how serious the problem is. What we saw at the field day however is that there is major interest from growers in learning more and we need to make sure that information is available and out there for people to access.”

Presenters on the day included pasture cropping pioneer Colin Seis, and Gerry Gillespie, driver of the City to Soil Project, who looked at how to make compost inexpensively on-farm.

Mr Mattsson said in the Mackay region there were several issues consistently resurfacing as the ‘Big C’s’ of soil health.

“Regionally, what we are seeing across the board is a focus on the ‘Big C’s’ – seriously low levels of soil carbon; seriously compacted soils; and seriously low available soil calcium. These three big issues of soil health are a critical challenge for sugar farmers that will impact the future viability of our industry,” he said.

The day included a breakfast and soil health presentations at Wests Leagues Club, followed by a farm field tour at Simon’s Marian property to view his ongoing soil health trial.

The trial is focused on introducing plant diversity. including the integration of radish, turnip, chickpea, soybean, common vetch, sunflowers, cereal rye and oats, which are planted beside the sugarcane stool after harvest. In similar trials undertaken in the US, increased plant diversity has been shown to increase the spectrum of species within the soil biology populations, in turn increasing soil carbon and nitrogen fixation, as well as the uptake of all nutrients.

“In the Mackay region, a monoculture cropping system has lead to declining levels of soil carbon and reduced diversity in the soil biology – this trial aims to show the benefits of reintroducing plant diversity,” Mr Mattsson said.

“Ultimately, we need to find a multi-pronged approach to address soil health. I don’t think raising soil carbon levels to about 3% is out of reach for our region.”

The event was free for growers and hosted by Mr Mattsson (grower and Nuffield Agricultural Scholar), with funding and support from Reef Catchments, CANEGROWERS, Wilmar, Mackay Sugar, MAPS, Mackay Rural Supplies, North Queensland Tropical Seeds and Superior Fertilisers.

This initiative was supported by Reef Catchments, with funding through the Australian Government.