Fiona McBean is based at Camp Creek Station in the Top End and previously spent years working at her father’s Douglas Daly property Bonalbo. Dissatisfied with pouring money into animals and the ongoing fight with weeds, she decided to challenge the system. She began by studying soil health and identified three key components that need to be understood and addressed:
· Chemical balance
· Structural stability
· Biological activity
Nutrients are made accessible to plant life (re-cycled) thanks to organisms living in the soil. Fiona believes that a healthy and balanced community of these organisms, and chemicals like magnesium and calcium, can provide all your nutrient requirements.
“Getting the balance right is very hard, especially on sandy soils, but by no means impossible.”
Adding micro-organisms to the soil can be done by using compost teas. Fiona said that while this sounds a bit left field, on-going studies into this kind of intervention are producing exciting results, including rehabilitation of compacted soil by adding the compost tea after deep ripping. This improves the value of the soil because increased infiltration allows it to store more water instead of seeing it run off the land and cause erosion.
Fiona believes that strategic use of animal impact through cell grazing or some form of intensive grazing can reduce erosion and weeds. Using animals as a management tool is a cheaper alternative to machinery and chemicals. But Fiona says that animal impact is a risky approach that requires a high level of knowledge and passion to minimise risk. Animals need to be present in a paddock for a limited amount of time to improve the land (add manure, incorporate organic matter, promote plant growth), but be removed before they degrade the land (exhaust resources in roots) and so the land can recover (restock the root system).
Incorporating grass into the soil with animal impact instead of leaving it standing increases soil health by promoting growth of fungi and other microbes. Fiona said that where weeds are present, it is unlikely that fungi are present at all. This is probably because the grass has been overgrazed or burnt, starving the fungi. Promoting fungi and other microbes leads to healthy soil, healthy pastures, healthy profits and healthy people.
Soil Health webinars are currently running with session 2 and 3 to be held on 29 May and 5 June. To register, click here and to see the first webinar click here.