Farmers in the Wimmera’s northern plains are getting down and dirty. And they are inviting other farmers from around the region to come and check out what they’ve discovered about their soils.
Farmers can see first-hand the progress of soil trials aimed at improving paddock health during a free tour on September 10. The event is a follow up to soil pit tour in February.
The all-day tour will visit trial sites at Yanac, Broughton, Telopea Downs and Kaniva. Soil experts will be on hand to outline the latest soil tests that benchmark carbon content, speak about soil management and structure and answer questions about how to conduct your own trial.
The trial site tour is part of the Sustainable Farm Trials project, a partnership between the Hindmarsh Landcare Network, Wimmera Catchment Management Authority and the Department of Primary Industries.
The Federal Government's Caring for our Country program is funding the three-year project, which aims to help revive soils hit hard by wind erosion and loss of carbon content. Through the project, soil scientists and agronomist are offering guidance and scientific testing to support growers running trials.
Malcom Jarred, who farms at Yanac and is a member of the Yanac-Broughton Landcare Group, is encouraging district farmers to join the tour.
He and neighbour Roy Dickinson are running 17 trial plots together at Broughton and are enthusiastic about the program and improving soil health. They are also keen to draw on soil experts' knowledge to overcome problems with boron toxicity.
“It's pretty fantastic to be able to work with the CMA and DPI to see what's happening in our own area,” Malcom says.
“If we ever think we've done all we can for our soil then we should probably give away farming. The only way to keep improving as we go down the track is by getting smarter with a lot of the ways we're doing things.”
Malcom and Roy are trialling different rates of compost and liquid blood-and-bone application on their site. All their trials are growing wheat varieties.
“Our trial plots are running for three years,” Malcom says. “By the end of that time there may be a considerable difference in the soil. Ideally it would be nice if the organic carbon content had lifted considerably because of the stuff we've added, and the yield and profit margin as well.”
Miram South farmer Ross McDonald from the Kaniva Landcare Group is hoping his trial plots provide scientific evidence that stubble retention is improving his land's soil carbon. He's been retaining stubble for about two decades on heavy clay soil and says it is ‘essential’ as farmers work to boost their all-important soil health.
Ross is trialling five different stubble-handling methods across 20 hectares. Methods include cultivation, slashing, retaining stubble as it is and treatment with a biological stubble digester.
He is keen to hear the results of recent on-site soil tests and he'd like to see testing continue at his trial site for several years to gauge gradual changes.
“This tour is certainly valuable for people in the district,” Ross says. “Kicking clods of dirt around in a paddock is an excellent idea.”
Soils officer Melissa Cann from DPI, who has been involved with the project since it started and has worked directly with farmers on their trials, says soil health is a key issue in sustaining and improving farm productivity.
“Landholders have ownership of these trials,” she says. “And there's a real mix of trials; with plots at Telopea Downs and Broughton using manures and composts at different rates, the Kaniva trial concentrating on stubble management while Yanac's looking at native grasses.
“This tour will involve crop walks so growers in the district can observe crops growing on different soil types with different management strategies. They'll be able to discuss what's been done at the sites, the rates of different materials used and why farmers decided to use the products they have.”
The Swan Hill-based soils officer is hopeful testing will continue for several years to get a good gauge of methods used by participating farmers.
“I'd like to see that some of the management practices farmers are trialling are worthy of further work and possibly taking it to more of a paddock-type demonstration,” Melissa says.
“To really get a good picture of how different management strategies may improve productivity and soil health you need to measure over a long term.”
The free tour starts at 9am when a bus departs from the new Hindmarsh Landcare Network office in Nelson Street. The bus will drop people back in Nhill at 5pm. The tour includes lunch. People can also use their own transport to follow the group.

• Melissa Cann from DPI explains the characteristics of a soil pit to a group of interested farmers at Telopea Downs farm as part of a tour in February which was the first step towards setting up soil trials in the Northern Wimmera.