Cane growers learn that good structure is at the root of soil health  

Burdekin cane growers learnt how understanding soil biology and chemistry can have a positive effect on production, at a recent NQ Dry Tropics workshop in Ayr.

Soil expert David Hardwick presented at the Soil & Farm Fertility – The Biological Way event, which focused on how soil microbes can help improve soil structure and maintain fertility. It was funded through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme Sustainable Soils for the Burdekin project.

“Soil is a major asset for farmers, but we need to be specific about soil health and what it means,” said David.

“A healthy topsoil is critical for farm sustainability and profitability. Soil should have good structure, balanced chemical properties, good water-holding capacity and effective nutrient cycles. It needs adequate levels of plant soil organism activity, including bacteria and fungi and it needs good levels of organic matter.  This can come from dead leaves and stems but also from living roots.“

“If soil health is poor, then increasing amounts of fertiliser will be needed, which is expensive and doesn’t provide long-term results. It’s like continually putting petrol in a car with a broken engine and missing wheels, and wondering why it doesn’t work properly,” he said.

“Growers learnt about the different roles the various microbes play in the soil and how critical living roots are in feeding this soil biology,” said Diana O’Donnell, NQ Dry Tropics Project Officer.

“Participants also learnt about different soil types and how to easily test soil in the field to determine its structure, root diversity and volume, and level of compaction.”

One local grower said that he came to the event because he knew how important soil health was, but didn’t know where to start in assessing it. “I want to reduce fertiliser costs while maintaining yield,” he said.