Tweed Landcare has received funding for a grazing management project that could have enormous benefits for local farmers, biodiversity as well as climate change mitigation. Increased soil biology, nutrient availability, water infiltration, drought proofing and reduced erosion are some of the benefits expected from the project.
Economic benefits to farmers are expected through increased carrying capacity for livestock, healthier livestock, improved soil fertility, soil structure, drought proofing, a reduced need to buy in fodder for livestock over winter and payments from carbon credits.
Ecological consultant and Tweed Landcare Project Officer Kim Stephan said Tweed Landcare received a Smart Farms Small Grant to demonstrate if the Soilkee Renovator can also work in a sub-tropical environment.
“The Soilkee Renovator keeps 80 per cent of the existing pastures and cuts grooves in the remaining pasture and drops seeds in,” Kim told The Weekly. The Soilkee combines cultivation, mulching, aeration and mixed species seeding to improve grazing systems”
“The seed mixes, which have been selected by local pasture consultant and agricultural economist Michael Gout for the subtropical climate, include grasses, legumes, turnip, chicory, oats and radish. As well as providing a diversity of feed for cattle, each plant has a role e.g., to fix nitrogen, promote soil biology, or grow deeply to break up compacted soils. One of the aims is to plant in Autumn to increase feed over winter to reduce the need to buy in feed.
“The project is designed to demonstrate that we can convert tired, old, compacted paddocks to deep, spongy, nutrient rich soils with lush pastures while sequestering carbon from the environment. Up until recently cattle were only seen as contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. Direct livestock emissions account for about 11% of total national greenhouse gas emissions, which makes livestock the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, after the energy and transport sectors”. Under this system cattle are part of the solution by grazing on deeper rooted pasture species that assist soil biology and fix masses of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that is stored deep down in the soil.
“The benefits just keep flowing on and on.”
“Earthworms and their castings were found to increase massively.”
“Studies also found a lot more birds, bees and insects around these pastures which help keep the ecological balance and can reduce disease and pests.”
“You don’t need as much land to run cattle as carrying capacity is increased.”
“You can run your cattle through the winter without having to buy in fodder because you’re storing forage on the land or producing silage to feed them with later”
Trials in the Riverina showed an increase of 122 per cent in soil nitrogen as well as marked increases in sulphur, phosphorus, crude protein and carbon.
“In the Tweed we have a lot of locked up nutrients in the soil, such as phosphorus.” “Increasing soil biology will help make these minerals more available in the system.”
“A lot of the soils are underproducing and often only the topsoil, the top 10 to 15 centimetres is working. With the right management this can be increased to 1 metre deep.”
Two properties have been selected and trials will start in November.
“We are planning a workshop at one of the sites early December 2020 with the Soilkee on site and expert talks from the inventor Neils Olsen and Agriprove,” Kim said.
“Another workshop will be held at the end in May 2022 to share the results and how other farmers can achieve similar results and carbon credits. “We have many partners assisting us with this project including Agriprove, Tweed Shire Council, Byron Shire Council, Brunswick Valley Landcare, Southern Cross University and Local Land Services.
Tweed Shire Council is contributing funds from the Sustainability and Environment Unit including River Health grants to reduce erosion, improve water quality, increase biodiversity and protect streams from the impacts of cattle.
“The landholders are major partners and have been fantastic and supportive by preparing approximately 25ha each on their properties for rotational grazing” she said.
“The two properties will also be registered for carbon credits under the Australian Government’s Emission Reduction Fund, which will provide a bit of extra income. These credits are sold to companies like Qantas who wish to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.
“The recent drought highlighted that we aren’t invincible on the Tweed and with the onset of climate change we need to better prepare ourselves for extreme climatic events.
Kim said that with our average rainfall we should be able to get a lot more out of our soils than we are.
“There is a whole world of life underneath the soil.”
“The relationships are complex and that is the key, plant photosynthesis, crop residues, nitrogen fixation and soil biology are together increasing the ability for carbon sequestration and improving soils for pastures. It’s very exciting.”
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