A combination of holistic pasture management is creating on-farm confidence for twin brothers Kevin and Ray Ellevsen, ‘Tancredi’ Woodenbong, even when their pastures appear badly burnt from frost and dry.
Just right now might not make such a good photograph, with the Kikuyu and Paspalum knocked around so badly, but the optimism looking forward is clear on the twin’s faces.
Two applications last December of highly powdered blue metal dust, grade one, at two tonnes to the hectare, showed a remarkable green response following extensive rains in March and it remained as the country dried out. Now, however, there has been but a spit since mid June and the place, usually so verdant, looks exhausted.
It will rain again, that’s a certainty, and if the 40 hectare paddock prepared at Tancredi springs to life with greater vigour it will be a good thing, as the application is affordable, provided a suitable quarry is close enough.
Suitable is the key word.
The 430 hectare property that is home to the brothers’ Ideal Santa Gertrudis stud incorporates tired volcanic soils on a sandstone base that use to grow corn taller than a man on a horse when the scrub was first cleared. These days nutrition is locked up, after years of chemical inputs and the soil biology is all but dead, “what you might call steady on its feet,” observed Kevin. “Like some of our politicians.”
The brothers began with deep ripping to crack tightly bound clays naturally high in magnesium. This encouraged the roots of pasture grasses to grow more deeply.
Most recently have spread powdered basalt from a quarry near Warwick. The rock from this location was analysed by the brothers through the Environmental Analysis Laboratory at Southern Cross University, Lismore, and found its trace elements matched well with those missing from Tancredi soils.
“Feeding microbes just love this rock dust,” said Kevin. “The combination of complementing strategies leads to a magnification of results.
An initial trial of 40ha has shown results so surprising that the brothers intend to dose the whole farm using a spreader contractor with a four wheel drive vehicle.
“Some of our terrain is steep so the contractor’s vehicle is needed but for most people a tractor pulling a belt spreader would work fine.”
The Ellevsen twins acknowledge the damage done to locals soils through constant over use of nitrogen and phosphorous, but they say that regime would work well combined in alternate years with blue metal dust.
Soil test data the key
Eight trace elements identified as present in basalt rock from Hutchinson’s quarry near Warwick perfectly matched what was needed on pasture at Woodenbong. This matching analysis, said Kevin Ellevsen, was critical if the soil amendment was to benefit.
In the case of Tancredi those elements included copper, boron, cobalt, molybdenum and selenium.
The brothers have long known about their local boron deficiency. When the family moved to this property in 1959 their father Raymond senior, an orchardist from Stanthorpe, was curious why the existing apple trees produced so poorly. A simple application of 1.5kg Borax (10 per cent boron) in 600 litres water had the desired effect of growing fruit to ‘Guiness book of world records size'.
The brothers say application of boron has already improved their pasture but it is the ‘magnification’ effect of combining deep ripping of the clay pan with rock dust on the surface that is having the greatest impact. And if Google maps is correct then the greener paddocks on Tancredi really do look better than the surrounding countryside.
Key to the rock dust success, applied at two tonnes per hectare ($40 per tonne landed) is the fact that it's pH higher than the soil at 8.7.
“Our soil is usually 5 and after application of rock dust became 6.4.” Said Kevin. “It is unlocking the country. It is part of a complementary strategy in our holistic management plan.”
The addition of basalt dust, grade one, has also increased soil conductivity ten fold as explained by philosopher-scientists Harvey Lisle and Philip Callahan.
“You must be guided by analysis,” advises Kevin. “The source of your rock dust must be able to work with your pasture.”