Challenge SWCC to Improve Pasture Productivity

Producers are invited to have their say on treatments to be trialled in a new ‘Pasture Challenge’ project.

Thanks to funding from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation’s Soil Wise project, South West Catchments Council is collaborating with Fertcare-accredited agronomist Graham Mussell and Western Beef’s Jeisane Accioly to test methods to address soil constraints and improve pasture productivity and soil health. A demonstration site just south of Busselton has been selected and we’d like to hear your thoughts on what practices we should test.

The site has two soil/land types that are typical of the the Abba plain south of Busselton. A less productive sandy ridge runs into more fertile loamy sand flats. The soil has an extremely low phosphorus buffering index (PBI) below 23 on the ridge, but is 73 on the flat which reflects the higher fertility in the lower part of the landscape. PBI decreases in the subsoil on both soil types. Other site attributes are:

  • The site is severely compacted below 10cm.
  • It currently supports clover and ryegrass with weed species, and the clover appears to be nodulating poorly, rated as either having moderate or ineffective nodulation.
  • Clover roots tended to show signs of severe disease, as indicated by the presence of dark coloured and occasionally stubby roots that are not functional.
  • Soil carbon levels are 3-4% in the top 10cm and below 1% in the 10-20cm layer.
  • Soil pH in CaCl2 is around 5 in the top 10cm but dropping to 4.2 in the 10-20cm layer on the ridge. Aluminium levels here are 3.9mg/kg and can affect plant production, but are likely to be buffered by soil organic matter.
  • Soil test results show that to target 95% of maximum production, sulphur is the primary limiting nutrient on the ridge and it decreases with depth, whereas potassium (K) is the limiting nutrient on the flats, where K levels also decrease with depth.
  • Tissue tests were collected in September to identify any micronutrient issues.

Tell us what treatments you think we should trial by completing this incredibly short survey (click here). We’ll discuss options at an event on February 14, 2023 where we will get farmers to vote on treatments they want included. The event will also discuss micronutrient issues and hear from a local vet about how soil constraints can affect animal health.

Over the one-year trial, farmers will be invited to pasture cuts to see the effect of treatments on pasture yield. We will re-sample tissue and soil in the second half of 2023 to assess the impact of the selected treatments. All treatments will be costed to assess their cost-benefit.

The project aims to increase soil testing and farmer’s capacity to interpret results. To help interpretation, we are using DPIRD’s new nutrient calculator. You can enter the soil test results for 0-10cm profile at both landscape types below into the calculator. Yield targets can be adjusted by clicking the dropdown arrow next to the sulfur (S) column to get recommended fertiliser requirements for different production levels.

Site Texture pH PBI P K S
Ridge Sand 4.8 17 21 141 7.6
Flat Sand 5.1 73 20 96 50.8

The pasture challenge is delivered by South West Catchments Council as part of the Soil Wise project, funded by the National Landcare Program Smart Farms Small Grants – an Australian Government initiative. It is supported by Healthy Estuaries WA – a State Government program, and Western Beef Association Inc.

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