Meat & Livestock News

Queensland Producers Turn to PayDirt Program for Soil Fertility Solutions

Corn seedlings grow from fertile ground and have technology icons about minerals in the soil suitable for crops.

In an effort to tackle the long-standing issue of soil infertility in Queensland’s Brigalow Belt, the Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has introduced the PayDirt program. This initiative aims to educate producers on the fertility requirements of pastures, focusing on the restoration of essential nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen.

Historical Context and Current Challenges

Soil fertility in the Brigalow Belt has been on the decline since the region was initially cleared 40 to 60 years ago. While the initial clearing led to a significant release of nutrients, continuous grazing over the years has resulted in a considerable loss of soil organic carbon (SOC).

This has had a detrimental impact on soil fertility, particularly affecting the levels of phosphorus and nitrogen.

PayDirt Program Overview

The PayDirt program, part of the Profitable Grazing Systems (PGS) initiative, recently conducted its first course in the Maranoa region. Led by contracted deliverers Peter Spies and Jill Alexander, the course aims to shift the traditional perception that fertilising pasture is uneconomical.

With rising land prices, Spies suggests that producers could benefit more from enhancing the fertility of their existing land.

Decision-Making and Soil Assessment

The program helps producers identify which soils are worth fertilising and assess their existing pastures to determine if fertilisation is a viable investment.

According to Spies, a good base of ‘3P’ grasses—perennial, palatable, and productive—is essential for effective fertilisation. The program also teaches producers how to conduct soil tests and interpret the results to identify nutrient deficiencies. These assessments are then integrated into a decision matrix to help producers make informed choices on nutrient management strategies.

Hands-On Learning and Approaches

PayDirt offers three half-day group learning sessions over a span of three months, along with individual coaching to develop property-specific plans.

Producers generally adopt one of two approaches: straightforward fertilisation of existing improved grass pastures or a systems-based approach that may include oversowing with legumes.

Outcomes and Future Directions

The program advocates for a balanced nutrient management strategy that could result in increased beef production per hectare.

Improved soil health not only enhances pasture growth and quality but also contributes to soil stability, drought resilience, and the retention of valuable topsoil. Spies notes that both synthetic and non-synthetic approaches to fertilisation can yield positive results.

Seasonal Action Plan

For those considering fertilisation, it’s crucial to assess pasture conditions and grazing management. Soil tests can identify nutrient deficiencies and help in decision-making. Producers are also advised to consider climate drivers like the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Index and the Madden–Julian Oscillation (MJO) to ensure optimal conditions for fertilisation.

In summary, the PayDirt program offers a comprehensive approach to soil fertility management, aiming to equip producers with the knowledge and tools they need to make informed decisions for sustainable agriculture.