Soil secrets | Landholders Driving Change

Eungella landholder Di Williams collecting a soil sample.

Pioneer Catchment and Landcare ecologist Peter Alden with soil collected in an augur.

Unlocking the secrets in soil

UPPER Broken River landholders are working with soil experts to enhance soil health, increase pasture productivity, and improve livestock nutrition and economic bottom lines.

A ‘Eungella Soils and Pastures’ workshop scheduled for 1 April was postponed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 virus.

When it is held, it will bring landholders together to share information about on-farm soil and pasture trials that are being carried out in the region.

The group has yet to discuss the results of soil samples, that were taken in February at eight properties in the Upper Broken River region by Jim Fletcher, of DAF.  

The group will learn about landholder support options for pasture yield estimations and measures, and economic analysis as well as discuss fertilising options.

Every little bit helps

Collective action will secure the conservation and economic benefits of healthy soils in the BBB region.  

That’s why LDC is taking a region-wide approach to bring together soil health professionals and graziers to improve awareness of existing, new, and evolving regional soil health practices and assessment methods. 

In the past 12 months LDC has hosted soil gurus David Hardwick, of Soil Land Food, and Dr Christine Jones, of Amazing Carbon, to provide one-on-one trainng and small group workshops.  

LDC has also enlisted the expertise of Jim Fletcher, DAF, to undertake soil sampling for landholders and report back the analysis of those samples, to help landholders devise actions and management strategies to improve soil and pasture.

Soil health knowledge will move landholders towards restoring hydrological balance on a catchment scale and therefore strengthen the region’s farm profitability.

Getting the best in the business to come into the region to workshop soil health, aligns with the overarching aims of the LDC project, working with landholders to reduce sediment on the Great Barrier Reef by targeting erosion hotspots and grazing land management practices.

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Figure 1. Total fine sediment reduction by project type and erosion source. Inset shows the proportion of the total project area for each project type.

These estimates have been calculated using two methods: 

1) The pollutant reduction component of the Alluvium/Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) investment tool for hillslope and streambank erosion management projects; 

2) The Reef Trust Gully Toolbox method for gully erosion management projects. The LDC Water Quality Report 2020 (Waterhouse et al., 2020) highlights that a number of assumptions underlay these calculations, therefore these figures should be treated as the best available estimate of sediment reductions to date.

Preventing sediment from reaching the Great Barrier Reef

Each wet season sediment is washed into local waterways and out to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). 

Most sediment is very fine, and can stay suspended for a long time and can travel great distances. Valuable topsoil is lost from production, and increased concentrations on the reef can be harmful to seagrasses and corals. 

Landholders in the BBB have completed 69 on-ground water quality practice changes, and it is estimated that these have contributed a fine sediment reduction of 6,154 tonnes per year from reaching the GBR. 

Of this, approximately half of the sediment savings are attributable to grazing land management changes on hillslopes and streambanks, and the other half as a result of gully remediation treatments across a broad range of scales, as shown in the graphs above. 

The table below also highlights the relatively small area of intervention in the gully management projects compared to the large sediment savings that these can achieve - 60 per cent of the sediment savings over only 4 per cent of the project area.

Table 1. Estimated sediment reductions (tonnes) from projects completed in the LDC Project to date.

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*GLMWW = Grazing Land Management Wire and Water

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*The Exploring New Incentives activity area has provided an opportunity for graziers to adopt improved land management practices through a range of activities. For some of these properties, it was the first time they signed contracts for on-ground works.

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The LDC project monitors four gully sites (represented in this table) with gold standard equipment and analysis, carried out by CSIRO.

Results have been compiled in a preliminary report from Bartley et al (2020), with the final report expected to be released by the end of 2020. The preliminary report shows all four sites have indicators of improvements, notably the Strathbogie and Mt Wickham sites.

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Reef regulations - grazing, standard conditions

  1. For land in good or fair condition (more than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), continue using measures to maintain land condition.
  2. For land in poor condition (less than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition.
  3. For land in degraded condition (less than 20 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition OR prevent areas from further degrading or expanding.
  4. Keep records of measures taken and also of agricultural chemicals, fertiliser and mill mud or mill ash applied to land.
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