Dung beetles key tool in improving soil at Wagga

Dung beetles first on agenda in campaign to improve soil

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Tetaan Henning, manager of Boambolo Pastoral Company's recently purchased Wagga Wagga property, Wateela. Mr Henning released more than 2000 dung beetles on the property this week.

Tetaan Henning, manager of Boambolo Pastoral Company's recently purchased Wagga Wagga property, Wateela. Mr Henning released more than 2000 dung beetles on the property this week.

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Cattle producers aim for dung beetles to work six tonnes of manure a day back into the ground.

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Tetaan Henning is the new manager of Boambolo Pastoral Company's recently purchased 800 hectare property Wateela, near Wagga Wagga.

One of the first items on Mr Henning's agenda was to introduce more species of dung beetle to the property in order to immediately start improving the soil.

Mr Henning said they currently run 300 Angus cattle, including 230 cows, at the property, but they were aiming to increase that number to 500 cows in the next couple of years.

They will also grow 200 hectares of irrigated Lucerne.

"Our focus will be on our soil and the rest should follow," Mr Henning said.

He said when he arrived at the property he noticed there were a lot of small, black flies around.

South African comparison 

Mr Henning is originally from South Africa and said they had the same black house flies there but not in the same numbers.

"I've done a little bit of research and in South Africa we've got native dung beetles, there's hundreds of different species and within a day of a cow dropping its manure it's gone," he said.

"One of the main reasons I believe there are so many black flies around here, is because the dung is not getting worked back into the ground.

"Which, long-term wise, is a major challenge for replacing carbon back into your soils.

"I want to eliminate the black flies to make my life a little more pleasant but it's the whole cycle - what you take out you need to replace."

Tetaan Henning introduced more than 2000 dung beetles to the property earlier this week. Two species were released, both originated in Africa.

Tetaan Henning introduced more than 2000 dung beetles to the property earlier this week. Two species were released, both originated in Africa.

Mr Henning said he estimated their 230 cows and calves would produce six tonnes of manure a day, which needed to be worked back into the ground.

"The easiest and the most cost effective way is to get nature to do it for you," he said.

Mr Henning got in touch with an expert on dung beetles, John Feehan OAM who sourced two species of dung beetles, more than 2000 in total, for him to release.

"John has devoted himself to dung beetles and trying to make farmers more aware of how beneficial they are," Mr Henning said.

"He phoned me on Friday and said 'look I've got some dung beetles for you' and I went and picked them up."

Filling in the gaps

Mr Feehan has more than 50 years of experience with dung beetles behind him, including many years working with a team at CSIRO to research and breed dung beetles.

He said nearly every beef producer in Australia had one species of dung beetle on their property, but that was not enough for them to maximise the benefit of the insects.

"Each species works for four to five months, it then goes into hibernation and you need to get another species to come in and take over the next shift," Mr Feehan said.

"What I'm about now is trying to come in and fill the gaps and there are lots of gaps."

Mr Feehan said the two species introduced by Mr Henning were from Africa. The first, the smaller of the two, named E.Intermedius, was suited to drought conditions and can be found on the fringes of the Sahara.

He said the second species, O.Alexis is larger and is a good all-round species that will survive on 80 per cent of the Australian continent.

"Those species were just two of possibly eight or 10 species that I would like to put onto the property eventually," Mr Feehan said.

Sequestering soil and improving moisture penetration 

He said the dung beetles were able to sequester massive quantities of carbon through increasing microbial activity and plant growth.

They also improve moisture penetration and have the ability to filter run-off after heavy rain, the tunnels the dung beetles create in the soil able to take in dissolved chemicals from pesticides, insecticides or fertilisers.

"Therefore we end up with cleaner waterways," Mr Feehan explained.

"The beetles produce all these benefits without machinery, without labour and without fossil fuels."

Mr Henning said the impact of the dung beetles will be put to the test as they will carry out grid farming techniques, taking soil samples every 50 square metres and adjusting their inputs accordingly.

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