Request from the farmer…

by Sara

Hi there Christine,

I was at the Kojonup workshop where you and the great speakers gave me some really valuable information. Very new to this concept and coming froma conventional farming practice that my swiss parents cleared, I went to the Gary Zimmer workshop a couple years back in NSW, thats where it started, I have then slowly kept my eyes and ears open to try and learn more but unfortunately in my part of the world if anything there is more cropping and spraying coming in.

My partner and I bought 100 acres in September last year and I am really wanting to use the paddock we have to activate the microbe below. Where do I start…

We do have 15 cows and calves, 3 horses so wanting to do some hay this year- just about 11ha of it. There is 3 different soil types and histories.

1 – very wet, water logged, actually surrounding a wetland/dam (this is one I want to slowly experiment with as dont want to do any detrimental effect to the waterbody) only mint weed and barley grass on the paddock. if we can get a bit of useful pasture that would be great to add some diversity.

2- next to a historic railway line, has been compacted by having a hundred plus cows on it getting fed hay when it was wet as a result the soil is very hard and lumpy, again only mint weed and barley grass and nothing else on there. if pasture can grow here that would be great.

3- great ‘meadow’ hay paddock, has a lot happening in it although some barley grass, alot of cover, seems healthy in most parts apart from lower wetter corner that may be starting to be affected by salt.

My main question is how do I prep these paddocks. I have just ordered some seed, the usual oats, balansia and various rye and clovers- I tried to pick the ones with most varieties. Where do I go from here? Is there any worth in spraying the mint and barley grass which is thick in some parts or do I sow in with a good natural seed dressing and some natural fertiliser and hope it doesn’t get out competed. We have had somewhat of a start with over 25mm in the last few months, so the grass is already well on its way…

I really hope you have time to answer my question – I am at the cross roads of do I just do the conventional method this year as I am still learning and hopefully learn more biological things for next year.

Many thanks
Sara

Word from the farmer…

by Matt

Hi Sara, Christine, Rachelle,

Thanks for the message, glad to offer any input or suggestions I can to be taken on board, although they may be a little slow.. Apologies, we are plenty busy!!

Observation is the best tool available, as suggested, analysing below ground (rooting depth, soil structure, biological and macro invertebrate life), above ground ( % cover, current species diversity (indicators..?), rate of manure and plant material break down etc).

Please note, every circumstance is very unique, soils chemistry, biology and all other factors, including previous management and applications of fertilisers, chemicals and mechanical practices will have impacted on the current situation. Soil and plant health are very complex topics that I think we all agree requires a lot more attention and understanding, it appears very little is truly understood and opinions differ greatly, and this (soil) is possibly our greatest asset. Read, research and discuss as much as possible, there are a great number of resources available online and many great books and other literature available, though be sure to read between the lines, nothing appears to be gospel… If that makes sense?

Base principles I believe in are, trust nature, look at things holistically and diversity is key!

I’d start with your goals, budgets, time frames, resources available (time, money, livestock, fencing, machinery etc) Also, return on your investment… Fiscal, happiness, health, professional/personal development etc.

It appears that change can begin to happen very quickly dependant on the current situation and the resources available. Measuring change is important whether it be through personal documentation (photos, species diversity counts, water infiltration, compaction (penetrometer), root depth etc and many others) of soil and plant health and diversity. And/or through soil chemistry and biological analysis, I’d look at base line soil analysis if resources are available? Soil chemistry, cations and cation exchange capacity in particular, now, and soil biological analysis in spring, through institutions such as SWEP, APAL, EAL and Soil Food Web, and take on board there recommendations alongside everything else you’ve heard, learned and understand.

So, basics initially, fencing, can you crash graze the livestock? Can they graze as one mob, cows and horses, is electric portable fencing available? Are liming and or dolomite applications beneficial to help kick-start? What mechanical tools are available, sub-surface, non-inversion plows, harrows, discs? Tickling the surface, better establishment of winter crops, reducing competition, weighing up benefits and disadvantages of above approaches? Spreaders? Compost and lime/mineral amendments, necessary or within budget? Sprayers available? Boomless nozzles? Applying beneficial bio-stimulants, compost and worm compost extracts, teas, seaweeds, fish hydrolysates and humates etc? Are they necessary? Whats the budget and benefit? And what seeding equipment is available? Can it sow into trash/groundcover?

There are a lot of options, I’d focus on mob grazing of livestock as your resource, soil disturbance, germinating other species laying dormant, and trying to establish as much species diversity as you can this season. Cereals as many as possible, (oats, barley, triticale etc), as well as legumes, as many as possible (vetches, peas, lupins, with the clovers) and any others that Christine can help suggest for our autumn/winter climate?? I’d look to crash/high dense graze through the growing season where appropriate to stimulate root pruning andfresh root growth as well as the manures and urine as pro-biotic stimulants for the soil biology of the site, triggering nutrient cycling etc. Then analysing suitable summer growing season species (Millet, lab lab, cow pea, sunflowers, buckwheat) and any others that can be recommended and how to best establish these crops, timing, soil preparation, amendments etc.

Gabe Brown has some good presentations available online that I think would be helpful. I’d look not to herbicide and trial livestock/mechanical disturbance to help with establishing the winter crops, though herby trials would be good to trial and learn from your own experiences and the various outcomes.

Hope that’s of some help!! What do you think Christine, does that sound fair?

Have a great Easter all!! Please feel free to get in touch at any time!

Warm Regards,
Matt