I called the local agronomist who took soil samples and announced that "The Bluff" was stripped of almost all nutrients, the worst being sulphur and potash. Organic matter was only 1.7. He suggested that the repeated use of this paddock to grow fodder
had over the years depleted the nutrient level. He thought that the recent heavy rains had probably leached the remaining sulphur and potash. He prescribed a very expensive cocktail of various replacement fertilizers but was unable to assure me that
if I went down that path, this strategy would be "curative"
I took to google and found a woman who talked about "regenerative land management practices that simultaneously improve soil function, agricultural
production, biodiversity, food quality and carbon sequestration outcomes."
This turned out to be Dr Christine Jones PhD, a soil scientist associated with The New England University NSW. www.amazingcarbon.com/PDF/JONES-shortCV.pdf
She was most generous with her time and knowledge. She told me there was a permanent solution, but to achieve it I would have to change my thinking. She pointed out that as long as I thought of myself as a cattle
and sheep farmer, all my decisions would be focussed on producing fat stock for the market. She suggested that sometimes, although unintentional, these decisions might not be environmentally sound and could lead to land degredation (left unsaid: as had happened
in "The Bluff") If however, I started to think of myself as a "regenerative farmer" my focus would always be to improve the soil function. This in turn would improve biological succession (more grasses and fewer weeds) and lead to healthy biodiverse pastures
that , as a byproduct, will turn off healhy, fat animals. All of this done by embracing natures free gifts, namely sunlight, water, air and soil microbes.
BOY, WAS I EXCITED? I couldn't wait to talk to everybody. All these experienced farmers were very polite but I could see it in their eyes, they thought I was nuts!! All their answers were prefaced....."Well maybe, but in my experience........."
Amongst the many documents Christine sent me, was an article she had written quoting a farmer called Colin Seis. "Carbon that Counts" talks about two brothers who inherited their father's farm. Effectively they are separated by a fence. Colin, the younger
brother, changed his farming practices to those Dr Jones is now advocating and over the next 15 years grew his top soil by more than 50 cm. He has doubled his carrying capacity, his soil tests have improved by more than 100% in every measured modality and
his input costs are essentially nil. By contrast, his brother who continues to farm using fertilizers and herbacides, has only 10cm of top soil, has half the number of animals and spends $50,000 each year on fertilizer.www.ofa.org.au/papers/JONES-Carbon-that-counts-20Mar11.pdf
On 15/12/2011, Dr Jones wrote:
Its very important to have green plants covering the soil surface for as much of the year as possible.
Plants and their associated microbes build soil. Another downside to leaving land fallow is that its likely to become overgrown with weeds.
I'd suggest you 'cocktail' crop the paddock this summer (ie now) with a direct-drilled mixture of millet,
cowpeas and sunflowers and anything else you'd like to throw in - the more different plants the better!! If your neighbours don't already think you're mad this will definitely convince them.
If S and K are deficient it would be worth applying potassium sulphate (sulphate of potash) when you sow the crop mixture. Potassium sulphate is better than potassium
chloride (muriate of potash) as the latter can be a bit harsh on soils. The sulphate of potash will contain both S and K. I'd also throw in a little sulphate
of ammonia - not too much - say 5kg/ha.
In addition, I'd strongly advise including a microbe friendly product, like kelp meal, which contains trace elements. Suggest you talk to Sonja Dicker
If it was me I wouldn't spend the money sowing a perennial pasture next year. If you graze your 'cocktail crop' correctly this summer - and continue grazing the paddock correctly
next year - the perennials will re-colonise all by themselves. If you wanted some advice with the grazing management, you could perhaps contact Colin Seis ask him to visit your property Colin consults to people all over Australia and is very experienced
in the techniques
Some useful stuff to read: www.managingwholes.com/grazing-soils.htm