Healthy soil and seeds discussed at Buckleboo
Tips on healthy soils, seed production and grazing management were shared at the Buckleboo Stickybeak Day in May.
More than 50 people attended the event The Healthy Life of Soil and Seeds and guest speakers included Anne Brown, Millie Nicholls, Nick Gellie, Rob Lay, George Dridan, Geoff Kew and James Kerr who shared information on seed and native plant identification, native grasses and plants, soil health, technology and the Buckleboo story.
A morning of presentations at the Buckleboo Club was followed by a tour of Buckleboo Station where attendees were shown how soil moisture probes are used, how to read a soil profile, increasing water penetration and retention with a croc seeder, native vegetation rules and some information about the station’s carbon project.
Anne gave a back-to-basics discussion on native plants in a pastoral context, saying perennials such as iron grass are useful, because they will remain for as long as they are looked after.
She said the winter-active spear and wallaby grasses produce lots of seed, are very fine, small and slow growing. They germinate at 15-25C air temperature but are also unpredictable, so need to be managed. Others, like bottlewashers, kangaroo, windmill or black head grass will grow in late spring to late autumn, stopping at the first frost or when air temperatures drop below 16C.
The SA Herbarium is a fantastic resource to consider when learning about native plants in the arid lands region. Website https://spapps.environment.sa.gov.au/seeds ofSA/browsegenera.html
Anne ran through some basic identification skills, explaining that all grass ID is done from seed.
“It’s important to learn your plant characteristics. You want to know your seeds because they are your animals’ fodder,” she said.
“Personally, I like identifiers of seed parts like short skirts, long skirts, bend over or ballerinas.
“Elegant speargrass is highly palatable, very good food and survives by living in other plants while blackhead grass seeds look like a shuttlecock and the plants can produce seed within a year.
“Grasses provide great competition for weeds and are great for species diversity,” Anne said.
Outside of grasses, Anne spoke about the native Australian Boxthorn that is home to a suite of insects that live in them and are good food for honeyeaters. She said the native apricot is not poisonous, tastes disgusting, but is important to insects and wasps and will increase insects around cropping paddocks.
“The Elegant wattle is a host food for the blue butterfly. If you have animals you want this plant, because everything on it can be eaten. It is also an important nitrogen fixer, and excellent for improving soil health.”
“All plants have their place.”
Millie’s presentation encouraged landholders to incorporate grasses in their paddocks – a skill she learned through her involvement in the Mid North Grasslands Working Group.
She said the principles of grazing management are the same, no matter where you are.
Millie uses a planned grazing technique that requires a high level of management and is very productive. She sets goals, considers her grazing systems and sets her stocking based on her pastures.
“One animal for 100 days is the same as 100 animals for one day and know that animals will only use about 30 per cent of a paddock,” she said
“Your total grazing pressure – including the pressure from kangaroos, goats, wombats and rabbits – needs to be managed because you need to allow for these when you are making your grazing plans.
“Be flexible. Plan ahead, monitor and adjust, adjust, adjust. Make sure you keep records.”
Millie spoke about the importance of a diverse pasture and knowing the plants you have. She said getting out to walk and observe is the best way to look after the plants you want on your country.
“Some grasses respond well to grazing and animal saliva will even encourage some grasses to grow,” she said.
“Just remember that what you take off the top affects what’s happening under the soil. Take too much and the roots will contract and the insects will eat what’s left behind. And what’s above the ground is mirrored by what is below the ground.
“You need to look after your soils – each teaspoon contains one million microorganisms.”
“Low ground cover means reduced rainfall infiltration.
“If you aim to do better, you will be able to do well.”
Nick’s work with TERN Ecosystem Surveillance involves the collection of a lot of data – things like floristics, cover abundance, soils, site photographs, basal area, plant vouchers such as leaf tissue, bio-molecular samples and drone data.
His presentation The Amazing Life of Bluebush was a humorous approach to a long term monitoring trial (think experiment) of Pearl Bluebush (Moireana sedafoilia) recruitment in the desert, as part of a partnership with Iluka Resources.
His introduction of a scientific method raised some eyebrows, but he explained that it should be a happy space for land managers.
Considerations in the experiment were that it is moderately grazed; recruitment events are sporadic and Bluebush is a community dominant plant that is a capricious seeder.
It was also important to note that Pearl Bluebush will only reproduce when a male and female flower are present on the plant at the same time. This was first discovered back in 1855.
The experiment involved growing 360 plants in two blocks with 10 replicas and 18 different treatments. The results were unexpected.
“After three years there was nothing to report. After six years, there had been recruitment of four plants, but none of them were in the prepared block,” he said.
When Nick noticed that under myalls, almost 80 per cent of plants were seeding, he explored every opportunity in the parameters and expanded it to include 15 plants under myalls.
“The result? Still nothing.”
“We can take 101 measures in a one hectare plot and each plant gets a unique barcode, but it doesn’t give you all the answers.”
According to George Dridan, it is proactive management that changes outcomes.
George spoke to the audience about Soil, water and root uptake of perennial plants in arid soils.
He has been involved in the installation of soil moisture probes on Buckleboo Station over the past 2 years, initially as part of one of the board’s Building Pastoral Sustainability Grants.
“We believe that pasture species have a huge capacity to extract water from soil,” he said.
“With the probes, you can see when the plants extract the water, how much water is needed to get to a particular depth and the nutrients coming up with the water.
“They show when a plant is under stress because it is visibly obvious in the data, even when it may not be noticeable in the paddock.
George said a plant needs half its vegetation intact to enable it to recover.
The latest probes placed at Buckleboo included a satellite link and we set up under healthy bluebush, both inside and outside of an exclosure.
“They will give information back about how the plant is managing the grazing pressure. The plants do the measuring and it should be easy to tell the difference in the two.
“It’s technology that can take a lot of planning out and save a lot of time.“
Buckleboo manager James Kerr spoke about the Rest-based grazing, which is the process being used on Buckleboo.
He said that in the past 12 months, sheep had moved one full lap of the property.
“The long term plan is to split paddocks in half again, so the paddocks will get three months of grazing followed by 15 months of complete rest. Sheep will be moved from smaller paddocks every two months,” he said.
Use of Ceres tags provided an opportunity to see how the sheep were using the country.
“You can see when sheep are feeding, how they’re moving and how they’re grazing from the office. In time, flexibility can be based on this technology,” James said.
“In a 40,000-acre paddock, the sheep are very mobile, but the data from the tags showed an area where sheep didn’t go and it has helped show us how we need to address water issues.
“When we divide the paddocks, we will fix the water.”
James also spoke about erosion control works on the property, which has involved building banks up to slow water and flatten sharp edges. He hoped using the croc seeder would overcome scalding issues in the tank paddock.
In addition to the rest-based grazing program, Buckleboo is also running a carbon offset project in an area populated by mallee eucalypts.
“Our goal is no bare ground.”
SAAL Soil scientist Geoff Kew’s presentation Reading a soil profile talked about the soil conditions you want on your property to get the best results.
Prior testing of soil samples on Buckleboo showed that zinc and phosphorous levels were extremely low, but still alright, while there are also low levels of sodium and boron around spear grasses and salinity is high for ex-agricultural land. Testing on sandhills showed that salt readings were almost non-existent.
Geoff explained that higher readings of inorganic carbon in local soil equates to carbon presence in the calcium carbonate soil layer.
In a soil pit visited as part of the field tour, Geoff pointed out lighter textures where wet and drying had leached the carbonate from the soil.
He pointed out the roots which were stopping at the carbonate layer and explained how to determine the water holding capacity.
“Perennials will send roots down the cracks to keep them open,” he said.
Former Pastoral Board staff member and author of the Plants of South Australia booklet lead a plant walk where he pointed out Bossiaea, Zygophyllum and an Exocarpus (Leafless cherry) that would have been hundreds of years old.
He explained that while the roots of a quandong might go for 2km in the WA soils, it wouldn’t be anywhere near that in the Gawler Ranges.
Bren also pointed out a lichen crust, which he said was important for assisting the growth of larger plants and would protect soil from erosion.
“It’s an important nitrogen fixer, enhances the surface of the soil to improve rainfall infiltration and is considered quite a good indicator of moisture levels,” he said.
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