Step Up Soil Condition
The Step up Soil Condition program was designed as a practical support tool to encourage step-wise adoption of management options targeting organic matter and soil condition.
The program was a starting point for growers to build their knowledge and improve discussions with service providers supporting their industries, and select appropriate management options.
The aims of the program were to:
Predominately consisting of a carbon/soil condition module, the program provided a series of information sheets and worksheets to aid growers in identifying risk and management actions which was then recorded on an action plan.
Growers included glasshouse vegetables, broad acre vegetables, wine grapes and almond.
Growers participating in the supported networks were required to attend a small number of workshops/paddock walks and develop a draft action plan. The action plan became a tool to help growers focus on gaps in their knowledge or management systems. Action plans were developed by the individual growers, or were developed collectively as a group activity. Although growers were not bound by their action plans, the Step Up Soils support officer provided follow up assistance to help the growers assess actions identified in the plans.
What the Step Up Soil Program did
The program consisted of face-to-face meetings to provide information on identifying risk and actions relevant to soil management. Participants sampled soils from their own properties and soil test results were generated for each individual property by Phil Barnett, Managing Director, APAL. Growers were able to discuss soil test results and an understanding about improvements required. In general, most soils were low in soil organic matter and there was a range of nutrient deficiencies and toxicities detected.
The information obtained from soil test results was vital to the development of an action plan. Growers used the test results to assess and modify future soil management practices.
An action plan was developed to summarise key actions directed at improving knowledge and/or site management.
A regional field day and compost/soil condition symposium (see the SA Grower article here) were conducted to encourage networking with growers from outside regions with similar issues (see the photo gallery).
An initial survey was completed by participating growers which reflected their current level of knowledge and management practices of soil condition/carbon.
Existing grower knowledge
A high number of participants (70%) had not had soil tests conducted in the past and had no knowledge of the state of their soil condition. Of those that did (30%), only a small number had undertaken soil tests in the last 3 years.
At the start of the project, most participants had average knowledge that could be improved in relation to soil related issues.
Approximately 10% of growers did not confidently know about soil organic matter, alkalinity/acidity, salinity/sodicity and soil nutrient balance.
20% of participants felt they had very good knowledge of some soil issues, but not all. For instance, there was a greater understanding of compaction (35%) compared to knowledge of soil organic matter (6%).
Over the life of the project the most obvious improvements were in the areas of soil organic matter, compaction and soil nutrient balance. Participants gained a greater understanding of these areas through soil nutrient test results on their own properties, and presentations on soil condition pertaining to improving organic matter.
The majority of growers taking the survey considered soil issues were being managed or could be better managed.
51% of participants considered management of soil organic levels as average, while 16% thought it could be better.
At the end of the project however, there was a great improvement in soil management, particularly for soil organic matter and soil nutrient balance.
The Step Up Soil Program was funded by a Caring For Our Country grant.
First Soil Pit
Verdelho plot with minimal efforts to add organic carbon (Temple Bruer organic vineyard at Langhorne Creek)
Second Soil Pit
Shiraz plot with undervine compost and mid-row cover crops (Temple Bruer organic vineyard at Langhorne Creek).