Taking the heat out of soil health

News article |

With hotter, drier times ahead, savvy farmers are taking up sustainable agricultural practices that protect their soils, pastures, and livestock. Here are some of the ways that South Australia’s landscape boards are helping land managers beat the heat and remain productive.

Taking the heat out of soil health
A mixed species trial crop at Ungarra on Eyre Peninsula, produced by the Young family.

Benefits multiply with multi-species crops and pastures (Eyre Peninsula)

Planting multi-species cover crops and pastures to improve soil health is gaining popularity amongst farmers on SA’s west coast.

Eyre Peninsula Landscape Board’s Regenerative Agriculture Program, funded by the Australian Government, has boosted the practice, by helping innovative land managers trial varied species combinations in both winter and summer through a grants program.

In fact, planting multi-species has moved to a more accepted method with many of the grant recipients now using these practices on a much wider scale.

Find out about the trial success of a mixed species crop produced by the Young family at Ungarra on Eyre Peninsula, .

The results speak for themselves. A key outcome is maintaining surface cover year-round, which provides peace of mind during dry times. But they are also great for soil carbon, help reduce erosion, increase nitrogen fixation of pastures, provide more autumn feed, increase infiltration on sloping soils and improve forage performance on saline land.

Getting Goyder’s Line farmers climate fit (Northern and Yorke)

Helping farmers with properties vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate was the focus of the Goyder’s Line project, led by the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board through funding from the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund.

Taking the heat out of soil health
A field of utes lined up at Booborowie in the SA’s Mid North. Farmers gathered for a workshop on grazing management as part of the Goyder’s Line project. Image: Libby Duncan

With Goyder’s Line - the edge of reliable rainfall in SA - moving further south, the project aimed to boost farmers’ climate fitness for the future.

During the busy, year-long project, more than 1352 land managers attended 15 workshops, 7 field days and 3 Agri forums to explore innovative ideas and share experiences with neighbours.

Fifteen land managers worked with a consultant to create a tailored property management plan to support drought resilience, which included on-ground works such as revegetation, shelter belts, stock containment areas, and installing new water points and infrastructure. As a result, 13km of fencing, 20km of water pipeline, 29 troughs, and 12 stock feeders were installed, with more than 40,000ha now managed to best practice standards.

Key to protecting soil and animal health in dry times is the use of stock containment areas, which are small, fenced sections set up to intensively hold, feed and water livestock. Through the project, 32 containment areas were installed, along with 20 shelterbelts that were planted with a total of 3,200 native plants.

Helping green-feed last longer (Hills and Fleurieu)

Grazing farmers in the Hills and Fleurieu region are honing their summer cropping skills to get the most out of their soils and pastures for longer.

Taking the heat out of soil health
Landscapes Hills and Fleurieu Sustainable Agriculture Officer John Butler (centre) on one of the demonstration sites with Mille Moore (S&W Seeds) and landholder Alistair Just.

Thanks to a partnership between the Landscapes Hills and Fleurieu sustainable agriculture team and the Fleurieu Farming Systems group, five ‘Multi Species Summer Fodder Crop’ demonstration sites were set up last year. The project, through funding from the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund, tested summer crop preparation and sowing techniques with the aim of extending the green-feed season and protecting soil health. It included a series of workshops and field days, with results setting a benchmark for future trials.

John Butler, Sustainable Agriculture Project Officer, is confident the project helped farmers establish the best preparation and sowing techniques for their summer crops.

“By using five different sites across the region, each with different paddock preparation and sowing methods, we were able to make comparisons and measure the effectiveness of various cropping techniques and their impacts on soil health and green-feed carrying capacity,” he said.

“We learnt more about extending the season with green-feed into summer, effectively reducing the need to buy-in feed, increasing summer carrying capacity and making better use of summer rains. We look forward to setting up new sites this summer and hope to consolidate our learnings and try some new things as well.”

Learn more about sustainable agriculture in the Hills and Fleurieu at https://www.landscape.sa.gov.au/hf/our-priorities/land/regenerative-agriculture

Digging deep to achieve drought resilience (South Australian Arid Lands)

Five demonstration sites across the SA Arid Lands region are showing first-hand how to make agricultural land more resilient to drought in the state's outback.

Taking the heat out of soil health
A soil pit created on Wintinna Station shows the soil horizons. Separate dishes with soil taken from different depths in the profile were tested for pH and texture to get a full description of the soil profile. Image: Andrea Tschirner

Since July this year, properties in the region have participated in the SA Arid Landscape Board’s From the Ground Up program with a range of trials, testing and lessons already learned.

At Wintinna Station in the state’s far north, soil testing in different grazing areas is allowing a better understanding of soil properties that influence plant growth and nutrition, such as water holding capacity and soil chemistry. Soil moisture probes have also been installed to monitor how the mulga shrubland makes use of rainfall.

During a recent trip with TERN, Australia’s Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network, and a University of Adelaide student, soil pits were investigated at four monitoring sites. The soil chemistry and texture showed differences across paddocks and explained differences in plant composition between the sites. Soil tests also provided data to support the management of animal nutrition. Soils that are low in phosphorus can lead to dietary deficiencies, so understanding soil chemistry can help pastoralists plan the use of supplements.

From the Ground Up is supported by the SA Arid Lands Landscape Board, through funding from the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund.

More information

You can stay up to date with landscape management projects in your area by contacting your local landscape board. Find your local landscape board here.

You can also subscribe to the Landscape SA Newsletter to get news from SA’s nine landscape boards in one place.

More stories

  1. Water plans in the Mount Lofty Ranges to be amended

    News article | 23 Jul. 2024
  2. Nominations open for SA’s regional landscape boards

    News article | 22 Jul. 2024
  3. Tackling plastic on farms

    News article | 10 Jul. 2024