Organic approach to boost soil biology

23 Jul, 2018 04:00 AM
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 55 tonnes of loose application organic carbon delivered to Damon Parker's farm at Gairdner last week.
55 tonnes of loose application organic carbon delivered to Damon Parker's farm at Gairdner last week.

CARBON Ag Solutions has invested heavily in using organic carbon in Western Australia, creating two ways to get the carbon into the soil.

Rather than spreading a loose application of organic carbon, which can be lost due to severe soil erosion events, it has created a pellet and granular solution.

The new products, which will be launched at the machinery field days this year, are created by C-Wise and are designed to increase subsoil health, water-holding capacity, yield and profitability.

When applied at seeding time, through modern day seeding technology, the organic carbon will slowly break down and increase the soil’s biology.

The granular form can do a similar thing, although to make the product denser and harder, Carbon Ag Solutions combines compound fertiliser with organic carbon.

The business can combine granulated organic carbon with either 20 per cent, 30pc or 40pc granulated fertiliser.

Carbon Ag Solutions managing director Brad Wisewould said the new product would inject the organic carbon into the subsoil.

“We do have the loose bulk option, but that is more ideal for growers who are using mouldboard ploughs, Ploza ploughs or even deep ripping with inclusion plates to get it into the subsoil profile,” Mr Wisewould said.

“The unique concept with the pellet is it gets right in there next to the seed but with the bulk loose option, if spread on the surface, remains in the top shallow layer of the soil profile, away from the root zone.”

Ideally farmers would put the pellet/granule product in the air seeder at an average of 60 kilograms per hectare, dependant on subsoil requirements, which would allow them to cut their fertiliser rates back as the carbon allows the plants to make better use of the compound fertilisers.

The benefits are increased water-holding capacity of the subsoil and reduced leaching of the fertiliser through the soil profile as the fertiliser is attached to the carbon.

“It’s important to know that getting the organic carbon pellet alongside the seed allows the plant to use the fertiliser farmers are applying with a much greater effect,” Mr Wisewould said.

“It enhances the plant’s ability to use the compound fertiliser.”

Mr Wisewould said he had been using organic carbon for seven years in a dryland farming system in New South Wales and he found, through subsoil moisture probes, there was a 20pc increase in water-holding capacity in the soil under the organic carbon program.

“In a two to five-month period you will see the water holding capacity start to increase within the subsoil,” he said.

“In the first month you may see some changes in soil structure but over time you will see your subsoil health and ph levels increase in the soil.”

Mr Wisewould said a lot of farmers were now pretty savvy with their soil science.

“They have realised they can’t spend too much more money on top of the soil, in terms of machinery to get greater yields and they need to go underneath and look at long term soil health and sustainability to remain profitable,” he said.

Mr Wisewould said with the introduction of GPS and autosteer, farmers had more time to conduct research.

“Soil organic carbon is the basis of soil fertility and health,” Mr Wisewould said.

“There is so much data available and there are approximately 15,000 trials that have been done on carbon in cropping systems in Australia.

“The most important thing which comes through from all the data and trials, is to get the greatest response you need to get the organic carbon into the ground and right next to the seed.”

A resilient soils trial at Katanning hosted by the Blackwood Basin Group in 2011, had results which showed there was no penalty to plant nutrition when the fertiliser rate was dropped by 50pc and there was an organic carbon substitute placed into the ground.

There was also an obvious increase in root mass where the soil had been treated with organic carbon.

A Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) report from May 2018 stated “the value of soil amelioration has been estimated to be worth an average of about $125 per hectare per year, depending on location, soil type and crop type”.

“Allocating part of the budget to soil amelioration practices has significant benefits for farm businesses across the WA grainbelt,” the report said.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development also released a report from its research program in 2012 outlining the benefits.

It reported that increasing the cropping frequency decreased the soil carbon and where minimum tillage was practiced, instead of conventional tillage, tended to have a greater stock of soil carbon.

In Australia soil carbon levels have dropped by up to half of pre-agricultural levels in many areas because of activities such as fallowing, cultivation, stubble burning or removal and over grazing.

Another key point was soil carbon stock was higher in pasture systems compared to cropping systems.

The report also stated “results from the field trials showed that management practices such as fertiliser application, cultivation, stubble retention, crop rotations and grazing management had a relatively small or no effects on soil organic carbon stocks”.

“This means that management solutions need to focus on getting organic carbon into soil at depth.

“The benefit would be increased soil carbon storage and a deeper fertile subsoil layer,” the report said.

With this research Mr Wisewould has created a focus for Carbon Ag Solutions to supply the needed management solutions for our carbon deficient soils.

“We strive to give farmers a great unique product, which will lead to greater sustainability and profitability and is going to improve their subsoil and plants health, which will lead to greater yields into the future,” he said.

“The exciting thing is that no one else offers this product in WA and no one else offers this unique product in this form Australia wide.”

Mr Wisewould said the business could press three tonnes of loose organic carbon product into one tonne of product.

“Therefore we can shift it three times further into the agricultural regions of WA, making freight more economical,” he said.

“And the pellets and granules are a way to ensure that nothing changes in the modern day seeding technology and practices that are currently used.”

Last week Carbon Ag Solutions delivered, through Campbells Transport, 55 tonnes of loose application organic carbon to Damon Parker’s farm at Gairdner.

Mr Parker, a board member of the Fitzgerald Biosphere Group (FBG) grower group, said he has been testing liquid carbon on his farm and liked the idea of using pellets to incorporate his carbon next to the seed at seeding time.

“Anything I can do to increase the soil health down here in these beach sands,” Mr Parker said.

He said he didn’t know how well the loose application would work, with strong winds cutting out most of the top soil in the area this year.

“We need something we can incorporate directly into the ground and get it working almost instantly,” he said.

“I don’t want to spend money on something that I have to wait two or three years to see a return on.”

Carbon Ag Solutions has been busy this week delivering product to a grower in Katanning who is also spreading the loose carbon product on to boost his pasture growth at 1.5 tonne to the hectare, these paddocks will be cropped in 2019 under the pellet/granular program.

FarmWeekly

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