Better soils better business

Better Soils program chairman Michael Richards and Yorke Peninsula farmer Jane Greenslade bury toilet rolls to measure the rate of biological activity.

Just how do chemicals and other farming technologies affect soil 'health'? A series of on-farm workshops across SA will seek to provide the answers.

The Better Soils program is jointly supported by farmers through the GRDC, Primary Industries and Resources SA, and the National Heritage Trust. It will address producers' concerns about current management practices and their impact on soil systems and will focus on practices that are both profitable and sustainable.

The half-day, hands-on workshops will look at soil and nutrition, managing moisture, the living soil, and barriers to root growth. Understanding how agriculture and soil biota can work together will be an important part of the program.

Low-tech soil tests

The first workshop in the program was successfully piloted on Yorke Peninsula in spring and producers were encouraged to test the biological activity in their paddocks. Toilet rolls were buried in different soil types, under different crops and management situations. The buried rolls provided a food source for the soil organisms present and the degree of organism activity was reflected in the level of degradation after six weeks.

"We concluded that six weeks was not long enough to really demonstrate the level of organism activity," Better Soils chairman Michael Richards said. However, "regardless of the level of degradation, the rolls illustrate moisture difference and initiated much discussion on the factors that influence soil organism activity".

The Better Soils program will be launched in autumn 1999 and workshops will be available through the Agricultural Bureaus across SA.