Bird

Soil program outcomes beyond expectations

Wednesday 24 July, 2013
Farmers who attended Beyond SoilCare events had a greater understanding of soil management practices, increased confidence to implement change and were more likely to discuss soil matters with neighbours or friends, according to a recent participant survey.Beyond SoilCare, funded through the Commonwealth Government's Caring for Our Country (CfOC) initiative and delivered by the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority (CMA), aims to improve landholders' knowledge and skills in soil management, as well as promote the importance of healthy soils and the work farmers do to the wider community.

Farmers who attended Beyond SoilCare events had a greater understanding of soil management practices, increased confidence to implement change and were more likely to discuss soil matters with neighbours or friends, according to a recent participant survey.Beyond SoilCare, funded through the Commonwealth Government's Caring for Our Country (CfOC) initiative and delivered by the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority (CMA), aims to improve landholders' knowledge and skills in soil management, as well as promote the importance of healthy soils and the work farmers do to the wider community.

Goulburn Broken CMA Land Health co-ordinator Rhiannon Apted said in the past 18 months, more than 600 landholders, managing an estimated 77,700 acres, had participated in the Beyond SoilCare project, completing 896 soil tests, and attending one or more of 16 workshops, three farm tours, seven field days and a forum.

"Farmers taking part in the program learnt about the capability of their soils by understanding more about soil types and characteristics," Rhiannon said.

An impact survey measured the success of the program. The responses from the 95 people who took part in the survey, conducted by Roberts Evaluation Pty Ltd, were compared to a set of baseline responses recorded in 2012.

"In the pre- and post-participation surveys the top three most commonly cited reasons for wanting to learn about soil health were efficiency of production, profitability and sustainable production. The next most common were environmental/soil health and custodianship of the land," Rhiannon said.

Overall, 84 per cent of respondents had made a change in at least one soil management practice, with changed fertiliser regimes and changed pasture the most common, and deep ripping and gypsum the least.

In terms of what would make it easier for participants to trial something new to improve soil health, "talking in a group" was rated highest by survey participants.

"We had a number of farmers who had never participated in this type of agency-led program before, which highlighted the value in the group-based approach we took in delivering Beyond SoilCare workshops," Rhiannon said.

Another significant outcome of the Beyond SoilCare program was the number of farmer-led trials established after landholders attended workshops.

"By building greater understanding and encouraging farmers to work together to share their experiences, the program has provided a launching pad for farmer-led initiatives, which ultimately is the best way to bring about practice change and improve productivity," she said.

The findings of the impact survey have been used to improve the delivery of the second phase of the program, with the focus on practical management solutions.

"Beyond SoilCare participants have indicated they are keen to use similar forums to share experience and expertise in soil and grazing management, while soil biology and soil carbon remain issues of very high interest," Rhiannon said.

The Beyond SoilCare Impact Survey is available at

www.gbcma.vic.gov.au under the Land Health section. For more information about the program and study, contact Rhiannon Apted on 5736 0100 or email

rhiannona@gbcma.vic.gov.au

Graytown and Costerfield farmers looking at ironstone nodules and root development in tight soil.

Graytown and Costerfield farmers looking at ironstone nodules and root development in tight soil.