Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Enhanced Extension Coordination: Burdekin growers delve deep into the science of soil

An enthusiastic group of Burdekin sugarcane farmers with a shared interest in soil health and the benefits of cover crops completed a three-part training course from March to May 2021.

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Burdekin sugar Regional Extension Coordinator Terri Buono said a producer-led initiative brought soil health expert David Hardwick to the area. “David is well known through the work he had done with other projects and the growers were keen to bring him to the Burdekin,’’ she said.

Attendees went out in the paddock to inspect a trial of mixed species cover crops.

Hosted by Glenn and Rhonda Pirrone on their Ayr farm, the third workshop concentrated on making sense of soil analyses and how to use the results to make decisions on farm. David, assisted by Nuffield scholar and sugar cane farmer Simon Mattsson, provided an engaging explanation of the nitrogen cycle. They shared how nutrients cycle through the soil to become available for plants to consume and grow, and eventually return to the soil when the plant died. Multi-species cover-cropping, which Mr Mattsson has implemented at his Mackay property, was also a focus of the workshop.

The group inspected a fallow paddock on the Pirrones' farm, seeing first-hand the soil benefits of a short-term mixed species cover crop. The group discussed minimum-tillage strategies to prepare the paddock for planting including using a mixture of molasses and prilled urea (a type of solid nitrogen fertiliser that can easily dissolve in water) to accelerate the biological activity in the soil that would break down the remaining mulch.

Mrs Pirrone said the workshops had been invaluable. "It's new knowledge, it's so good for us to be able to have somebody like David Hardwick come and walk through our paddock, dig up the soil and give us advice," Mrs Pirrone said.

This workshop was part of the Enhanced Extension Coordination in the Great Barrier Reef project funded through the Queensland Government’s Queensland Reef Water Quality Program. This workshop was organised by NQ Dry Tropics.