LIQUID microbiological solutions are playing a key role in trials aimed at increasing soil carbon in diverse farmland across the Far North Coast.
Thirty producers in the Tweed Valley, covering cane, beef, dairy, bananas, nuts and vegetables, and both organic and conventional practices, are taking part in the study, which involves a mix of applying compost, biochar blends, using legume cover crops and spraying paddocks with the soil-enhancing solution.
Designed by Murwillumbah firm Soilife, the product, called Soil Builder, is made up of bundled micro-organisms combined with the micronutrients they need, established in liquid.
The three-year program, now 50 per cent complete, is being run by Tweed Shire Council with funding from the federal government’s Carbon Farming Futures Action on the Ground program.
Sustainable agriculture officer with the council Hamish Brace said the project was driven by producers, who saw solid value in increased soil carbon.
Both from the perspective of reduced input costs via cutting back on chemical fertiliser needs and lifting nutrient and water availability and from the angle of reduced nitrous oxide emissions – currently being tested – and a more resilient ecosystem, there are big gains to be made on-farm from increasing soil carbon levels, he said.
Ron and Lorraine Stoddart, who milk a herd of 100 at Warning View Holsteins, west of Murwillumbah, saw constantly trialing “new ways” as a crucial part of staying competitive in the modern-day dairy game.
They have set up a 2.4-hectare trial block, where compost – green municipal waste mixed with dairy effluent – was applied in two strips, one at 10 tonnes per hectare and the other at 20t/ha. A control strip was also set aside.
Before the compost went on in February, 80 litres of the microbiological solution was sprayed on.
“It went on ploughed ground where nothing had been planted for two years due to excessive rain,” Mr Stoddart said.
In May, ryegrass was planted on a full moisture profile and rain was plentiful until the past six weeks, which had been extremely dry.
“To the first grazing, there was definitely better growth than other parts of the farm,” Mr Stoddart said.
“Since then, it has probably been on par.
“I’m a bit of a sceptic but I’ll observe what happens and make decisions from there. I will have to be able to see a difference.
“You have to constantly look to cut input costs in our game and that’s why we have taken part in the trials.”
The trials, along with a general increased interest among Tweed Valley farmers in improving soil health and using liquid microbiological products, has prompted contractor Rory Crickmore to set up a purpose-built spray rig.
With a wide boom spray and spray hoses for areas hard to access, attached to a sub-compact tractor, the equipment is used solely for microbiological solutions.
That meant Mr Crickmore could guarantee there was no risk of contamination from pesticides or other chemicals.
David Gourlay, from Soilife, said the secret to sustainable land use was to create and maintain a biologically active, living soil with a balanced, abundant and diverse population of microbes and trace minerals.
He said benefits seen on Tweed farms from taking this approach had included increased crop yields, reduction over time of input costs, heightened plant immunity to pests and disease through competitive exclusion, improved moisture retention and reduced compaction, erosion, soil acidity and salinity.
Visit www.tweed.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/default.aspx for ongoing details of the trials.