The main objective of the field day was to show what farmers are doing to prepare themselves for an uncertain future in light of variable weather conditions. This field day aimed to highlight how various nutrients can be best managed and utilised on an irrigated dairy farm. Craig “Reggie” Davis and his wife Tanya (along with Geoff and Laurel Davis) milk 630 cows at their farm at Bostocks Creek near Cobden, south west Victoria. Nutrient management is a big part of the farming system and close attention is paid to what is already available in the soil. Soil tests and plant tissue tests are regular activities which underpin many of their on farm decisions.
The event gave participants an opportunity to see the farm and hear about the value of soil biology, best practice in fertiliser and effluent use and using travel irrigators for nutrient applications.
Michele Ryan and Rachael Campbell (both Dairy Extension Officers with Department of Primary Industries Victoria) provided valuable information on how to conduct soil tests and how to understand soil test information with examples of nutrient maps and nutrient budgets also part of the event information kit. Discussion was also provided on managing effluent and the benefits in managing the resource for financial and sustainability reasons whilst staying within EPA legislation.
Tony Evans from Camperdown Compost Company spoke about the compost system at the Davis farm and how it was started, were it is at right now and what the future plans are.
Greg Potter from Colac Windmill & Irrigation spoke about how farmers can use pivot irrigation systems to distribute effluent or liquid fertilisers.
Soils are a farmers best asset when dealing with a variable climate and having a farm which is more resilient to climate variation. Building soil health with the correct use of fertiliser and compost can reduce the need to use chemical sprays to control weeds and pests.
Any changes to a farming system need to be done in stages with regular monitoring of soils and plant health to gauge if a new approach is beneficial. Making and using compost to build soil health is a good way to use effluent solids and following the advice of compost experts is critical.
The event highlighted to farmers that current traditional farming practices may no longer be enough for soils to cope with increasing demand. Soil biology, effluent and fertiliser management, pivot irrigation systems and composting are impacting on the ability of the soil to keep producing quality feed in a variable climate.
There is production pressure on the land and generally soil quality is decreasing – this trend needs to be reversed and better soil management is the key.
The event was very well attended with 70 guests attending, made up of 40 farmers and 30 service providers (including guest speakers). This reflects the great interest local farmers have with managing soils and the importance of soil biology, soil testing and saving money through efficient use of fertilisers and effluent.
With thanks to Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority a microscope was on hand for participants to view soil biology up close. This activity was conducted by Camperdown Compost Company and images were projected onto a screen of various soil biology which make soils healthy.
Craig ‘Reggie’ Davis is in the third year of a five year program to utilise more compost on farm. Already there are signs that the soil has improved with fewer pests, better root depth and a good return of clover to the field.
Department of Primary Industries productive soils specialist, Declan McDonald said “our track record in how we look after soil is not too good. We need to manage our soils better than we have in the past. Farmers needed to be supported in the challenge to improve the capacity of soil to meet future demands. Appropriate management of the physical, chemical and biological elements of soils is central to the development of soil health.”
Karl Stokes also provided a brief overview on the value of visually examining soil in the paddock for a range of health indicators. Participants were taken into the paddock and shown what healthy soil should look like and discussed the benefits of plants which have deep and healthy root systems.
G&L and C&T Davis’s Dairy Farm, Bostocks Creek, south west Victoria
Louise Sheba, Dairying for Tomorrow Regional Coordinator