Meat & Livestock News

SA Farmer Tackles Water-Repellent Soil with Innovative Tillage and Composting Techniques

large tractor with a plow plows the soil on the field after harvesting, for sowing a new crop of agricultural plants

Arran Loechel, a former fencing contractor turned farmer, is successfully tackling the challenges posed by water-repellent sands on his property ‘Booderoo’ in Coomandook, SA. After transitioning to part ownership of the sheep and cropping farm, Arran’s proactive approach to soil management has led to significant improvements in pasture growth.

In 2019, Arran volunteered ‘Booderoo’ as a demonstration site for the ‘Improved grazing production on non-wetting sands’ project. This move came after years of struggling with poor pasture growth due to water-repellent soils.

The selected 24ha paddock, with its deep sandy soils and a loam flat enriched with limestone, was found to be moderately water repellent and potassium deficient after soil sampling in 2021.

To address these issues, Arran explored various strategies, including deep tillage, which was identified as the best solution to tackle soil compaction and water repellence. The addition of locally-sourced aged piggery manure and bedding straw was used to enhance soil fertility and reduce erosion risks post-amelioration.

The treatment process involved dividing the paddock into 10 plots, which will be monitored until 2025. In autumn 2022, these plots underwent treatments to dilute water-repellent surface soil layers, treat deep soil compaction, and address nutrient deficiencies using mineral fertiliser and aged piggery manure.

For grazing purposes, cereal rye, vetch, Balansa clover, and a grazing brassica were chosen for their adaptability to low-fertility, deep sandy soils and their diverse nutritional benefits. The combination of deep tillage and manure treatment showed enhanced growth, as indicated by a Trimble GreenSeeker in July 2020.

By August 2022, the benefits of these treatments became evident. The deep-tillage treatments paired with manure yielded significantly more dry matter, and the pasture recovered well post-grazing, thanks to high spring rainfall.

The November results underscored the success of deep ripping combined with soil mixing treatments, especially when augmented with manure, leading to yields exceeding 6.5 tonnes/ha of dry matter.

Arran’s approach has been multifaceted, focusing on nutrient deficiencies, overcoming soil compaction, and planting new pastures with a mix of species.

This comprehensive strategy has not only increased pasture productivity but also enhanced the farm’s economic returns, indicating additional gross income of over $200/ha from grazing.

The demonstration site’s success over the past two years, including harvesting cereal rye for seed and multiple rounds of grazing, has bolstered Arran’s confidence in managing water repellence.

His commitment to continuing experimentation and adaptation exemplifies the dynamic nature of effective pasture production in challenging soil conditions.