AS farmers focus on carbon footprints and how to look at soil within a natural capital accounting framework, there is increasing importance on how fertiliser use and other land management relate to the bigger soil health picture.
That is something the Mingenew Irwin Group (MIG) plans to investigate over the next two years through a project that will develop case studies and extension material through working with farmers to undertake soil analysis, planning, implementation, and monitoring.
The project - titled Growing Better Business from the Ground Up, Sustainable Soil Management for a Sustainable Future -will work closely with 20 farmers in the northern agricultural region to fully assess their soil health and nutrient balance across two variable paddocks on their farm.
It has been made possible through funding from the Federal government's National Landcare Program and will include the measurement of individual soil nutrients as well as organic matter, soil biology, compaction and subsoil characteristics.
Further analysis of that data will then examine standalone limiting factors, potential issues caused by interactions between the elements as well as changes following remediation work.
MIG chief executive officer Joy Sherlock said a large focus of the project would be relating regional averages and individual farm data to past research to assist with better understanding of the regional and on farm specific variations.
"With an ever increasing focus on natural capital and more focus on carbon in the system, these investigations are of high interest to farmers in our region and beyond," Ms Sherlock said.
"Improving the soil nutrient balance to reduce soil acidification and other factors does directly impact on microbial activity, increasing organic matter, increased carbon in the soil, groundcover and overall improved environmental management.
"It takes time to make incremental changes but it can happen."
Fully comprehensive assessments will occur looking at various soil values such as ammonium and nitrate nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, organic carbon, electrical conductivity, pH, copper, iron manganese, zinc, calcium, magnesium, sodium and aluminium.
That data will then be used to generate detailed reports on soil health and balance, while subsoil test results will also be taken to illustrate what is happening further down below.
"Nutrient availability can also be impacted by other factors such as microbes and compaction so we will do a few sideline investigations also to see how these relate and what may be done to balance the soil health," Ms Sherlock said.
"For the livestock producers we will also add in some water quality and faecal tests if possible, to link it all back to livestock nutrition."
The project will also allow MIG to purchase necessary equipment - both handheld and ute mounted - for soil sampling over the two years, meaning farmers will see how to use and have it centrally available so they can implement their own monitoring in the future.
Furthermore, MIG plans to develop short videos and case studies at the demonstration sites to illustrate the various findings and the issues or limiting factors which are impacting them, how these may be remediated and what the impact is on other soil health factors.
Lastly, the project will also assist to develop further project plans that may physically demonstrate remediation activities on a larger scale, with a direct focus on environmental management, increasing productivity and long term sustainability.
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