Fertiliser decision making workshops - making a difference
Fiona Leech, Senior Agriculture Advisor - Yass, Matt Lieschke, Senior Agriculture Advisor - Goulburn and Ross Kuchel, Agriculture Advisor - Braidwood
The past five months have seen the successful rollout of a soil testing and fertilizer decision-making program across a large part of the Southern Tablelands and Southern Highlands. Around 230 landholders participated involving 180 properties across the region.
The program consisted of an opportunity for landholders to learn how to take representative soil samples from paddocks on farm. It was followed by a 2-part workshop series on the understanding of soil test results and how to use soil test information to plan fertiliser and livestock investments.
The fertiliser decision making component of the workshops was based on the latest extension package developed by CSIRO and NSW DPI, titled ‘Five Easy Steps to ensure you are making money from phosphorus fertiliser’. The ‘Five Easy Steps’ program contains the latest information available to landholders in the grazing industry. It helps guide decisions around fertiliser use to support pasture and livestock production.
The program discusses the numerous nutrients needed for plant growth including the importance of soil pH and soil carbon and highlights that there are a few key nutrients that must be addressed to run a sustainable and profitable grazing system.
Overall, 53% of participants rated the course ‘Exceptional’ and a further 46% classified it as ‘Good’. All feedback comments were very favourable with some responses noted below.
“This is the best workshop I’ve ever attended in relation to agronomy (soil, pastures, fertilisers etc). It included an incredibly useful combination of background research, practical activities, and on-farm applicability. I feel much more confident in my ability to plan our future fertiliser applications (backed by evidence rather than guesswork), and to incorporate regular monitoring to assess and revise that plan as appropriate. Could not recommend more strongly!!”
“The combination of the hands-on experience (of taking soil tests) combined with the workshops to understand soil chemistry, interpret results and relating that knowledge to fertiliser choice and application rates was exceptional.”
“I was impressed with the fact that the course was presented at a level that met the needs of all participants.”
The program provides landholders with key information to ensure they are taking representative and meaningful soil samples from their properties and then interpreting their soil test results in a manner supported by research. In the recent program over 750 soil tests, sampled from the 0-10 cm topsoil layer, were taken, and analysed from the 180 properties involved in the Boorowa, Yass, Braidwood, Goulburn, Crookwell and Southern Highland regions.
Landholders are shown how to match stocking rate to soil phosphorus (P) levels for sustainable and profitable production as well as the approach required to maintain and/or build soil P levels. The practice of building and maintaining P has been closely researched in two trials local to the South East region over a 20 to 25-year period and are highlighted throughout the course. Awareness is also drawn to overall soil nutrient levels in order to manage the nutrient balance of the soil.
Feedback from landholders participating in the recent workshops has indicated that 75% of participants will alter their fertiliser program for 2021 based on what they have learned during the course. Of those altering their fertiliser program 49% said they will adjust fertiliser rates while another 32% indicated they will change which paddocks are fertilised.
The ‘Five Easy Steps’ program has been built on extensive scientifically conducted trial work that has occurred over a 50+ year period (1955 to 2006) across the major pastoral regions of Australia. A comprehensive set of Australian pasture production fertiliser response data from around 650 pasture fertiliser experiments conducted were included.1
‘Five Easy Steps’ is an evidence-based extension tool now readily available to the grazing industry and is free for all to access from the Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) website (https://www.mla.com.au/extension-training-and-tools/tools-calculators/phosphorus-tool/). As part of the workshop participants are systematically taken through the ‘Five Easy Steps’ booklet and shown how to use the computer-based Phosphorus Tool.
This project is delivered by South East Local Land Services and supported through the Better Land Management Practices project, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.
1Gourley CJ, Weaver DM, Simpson RJ, Aarons SR, Hannah MM and Peverill KI. (2019). The development and application of functions describing pasture yield responses to phosphorus, potassium and sulfur in Australia using meta-data analysis and derived soil-test calibration relationships. Crop & Pasture Science 70 (12),1065-1079. https://www.publish.csiro.au/cp/cp19068
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