Managing soil and nutrients on dairy farms

FORTY four dairy farms across central and southern Queensland have had their soil nutrient composition put to the test in 2013, following the roll-out of Soil and Nutrient Management Plans (SNMPs).

The SNMPs have been conducted on farms in Great Barrier Reef catchments, by the Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation‘s ‘Dairying Better N Better’ program. The SNMPs involve consultants working with farmers to look at six to eight paddocks on farm, testing the soil composition across about half a day, followed by another half-day visit at a later date, sitting down farmers and analysing and understanding the soil test results.

QDO soil nutrient management copyRoss Henry with the Dairying Better N Better team said that the SNMPs were helping farmers address the potential shortcomings in their fertiliser regimes, allowing them to target fertiliser management changes and soil nutrient deficiencies in a cost-efficient way.

He said the results typically showed some simple steps that farmers could take to improve the nutrient levels in their soil.

“We know that most farmers have a defined budget allocated to their spending on fertiliser and may not want to spend more,” he said. “The SNMPs mean that they can match that budget to what their soil requires, rather than fertilising by instinct or blindly. So even if farmers are not spending more, they are getting better yields.”

He said that the SNMPs resulted in a comprehensive report for farmers and delivered information to a depth of 60 cm, broken down into data for 0-10 cm and then 10-60 cm.

The SNMPs have been done via local Dairying Better N Better groups and have been selected via expressions of interest and identified priorities, with plans to extend the program through Great Barrier Reef catchment areas through continued support from the Reef Rescue program.

Mr Henry added that the SNMPs were another reminder for farmers that potassium was typically a neglected nutrient, as some farmers did not realise that it is removed from the soil at the same rate as nitrogen.

“One tonne of dry matter from the paddock removed about 10 kg of potassium. So we are seeing some farms where potassium is low or very low.

The Reef Rescue program has contributed to the work in Reef catchment areas.

“SNMPs give the ability for the farmer to target specific nutrients that are depleted, and it also stops the excessive applications of unneeded nutrient. This reduces nutrient overload and the potential risks of nutrient leaving the farm via run off or leaching. This allows not only economic and productivity benefits, but also benefits to the local environment and this is a big plus in the reef catchments.”