Case studies: Soil preservation

Published: 9 Jan 2023

Following successive years of drought across low rainfall areas of South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales, local farmers were seeking information on ground cover improvement strategies to support soil preservation.

Eight growers from across the regions were involved in monitoring paddocks for 20 months, from 2020 to 2022. These are their stories.

Case studies

Practical tactics to improve ground cover and ensure soil preservation following successive low rainfall seasons

Mallee sands are extremely vulnerable to wind erosion due to their lack of aggregation and poor fertility. Erosion risks increase through drought as soil cover diminishes and soil disturbance is increased. Read for more information on why wind erosion occurs and the value of soil cover and good aggregation.

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Proactive groundcover maintenance

Proactive soil cover strategies within sustainable continuous cropping programs – including pulses!

Robin Schaefer is the general manager of Bulla Burra, an 8,500 Ha cropping enterprise at Loxton and Alawoona in the South Australian Mallee. They focus on innovative approaches to soil protection and managing erosion, which has been highly beneficial and a significant driver in their crop production increases.

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Combining cropping and sheep in the Millewa

Chris and Leanne Hunt farm in the Millewa region of the northern Victorian Mallee. Like many Mallee farmers, the Hunt’s manage a range of soil types, from loamy sand rises to sandy loam flats interspersed with less productive marly sodic flats. These require careful management as they are prone to baring out and fining up and easily blow during dry periods.

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Repairing wind eroded land

Repairing severe blowouts at Walker Flat in a decile 1 season

Farming areas of often steep jumbled sand dunes with a history of erosion had led to the Haby’s purchasing a tractor, scraper and bucket. In 2020, a large blowout area quickly got out of control from a heavy traffic strip combined with sheep camping around a trough area, low rainfall and strong winds. In 2021 this site was successfully repaired despite a very late season break and minimal rainfall throughout the year.

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Re-levelling blowout areas for effective seeding and harvest

Brenton Schober farms with his sons Ben and Clarke and their families. They manage 5500ha at Moorook in the northern Mallee, and 2000ha at Borrika. When the Schobers took over their Borrika property, it was in a severely eroded state. Between 2018 and 2022, the Schobers have endeavoured to level and re-establish cover over most of their sandy landscapes. Three of these years have received well below average rainfall seasons, especially in 2018, when only 99mm of growing season rainfall was recorded.

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Addressing sub-soil constraints

Changing sands mechanically and biologically to support drought resilience

Ben Ranford farms with his family at Cleve on the Eyre Peninsula. Throughout 2017 to 2020 the area suffered from challenging dry periods and damaging winds during critical growing season windows. To overcome these issues, Ben has been deep ripping and delving while growing and returning crop residues to the soil, in addition to using other soil health improvement strategies.

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Soil monitoring and erosion control planning

Cropping land restoration and the learns following successive years of drought in NSW

Nigel Baird runs a 45000ha sheep station 60km north of Wentworth at Anabranch South, with 2000ha of cropping land. Following the NSW Mallee’s severe 2018 and 2019 drought, significant erosion damage from the invasion of kangaroos, emus and goats and existing erosion issues resulted in the removal of the most fertile proportion of the soil. This combination of events highlighted the need to repair paddocks when suitable opportunities were presented.

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Rules of thumb for optimal cropping paddock management in marginal areas

Ben Pollard is a sheep farmer who crops a small area of farmland 40 kilometres west of Wentworth in NSW. While livestock is Ben’s primary enterprise, cropping adds an important and profitable element to his farm business. Reflecting on the 2018-19 drought, Ben has identified several responses that now govern his decision making around his cropping land to reduce and prevent future wind erosion damage.

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Livestock management strategies

Livestock management strategies safeguarding against wind erosion

Ed and Carolyn Hunt farm with their son, Evan and daughter-in-law Lauren near Wharminda on the Eyre Peninsula. 2017-2020 saw a combination of low rainfall, late breaks, poor finishes, and very strong winds during critical times that left significant cropping areas within the district bare and in need of repair. In addition to grazing management on challenging sandy soils, the Hunt’s have undertaken significant clay delving with noticeable improvement to topsoil aggregation.

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Contact: Dr Chris McDonough,, M: 0408 085 393.

GRDC Project Code: MSF2010-002SAX,