Southern NSW grazier David Shuter has doubled his carrying capacity by achieving a balance between biological and conventional soil treatments. The planned program over the last four years has also resulted in reduced soil acidity and compaction. And increased soil aeration, boosting pasture growth and animal productivity. Mr Shuter and his son Nicholas run an aggregation of four properties (freehold and leasehold) totalling 1240ha. At Gerogery and Walla Walla. By focusing on lifting soil and pasture health. Their 2013-drop calves achieved a lifetime average daily weight gain of 1.1kg off grass.

Mr Shuter puts the productivity increase down to the use of worm juice and TM Agricultural. An organic soil activation product produced by Best Environmental Technologies. He said the improvement in soil biology had created ideal conditions for increased populations of earthworms and native dung beetles.

Improving Soil Biology

The program has been in place since one of the properties, Gerowalla, was completely gutted by a fast moving grass fire in December, 2009. “The fire was a worry but it has given us the opportunity to start with a blank canvas when it came to fencing, pasture and tree plantations.’’ Mr Shuter said. “We have refenced Gerowalla into cells with a central laneway for ease of stock management. “The post fire rain in 2010 germinated an infestation of sticky goose foot. So the entire property was sprayed then direct drilled to oats.’’ Three years of oats and wheat followed, all being grazed and then cut for silage or hay. In order to bring the weeds under control and aerate the soil.

New pastures of phalaris, Riverina and Goulburn sub clover, Haifa white clover and Victorian perennial rye are being progressively sown. Set in a 675mm rainfall zone. The aggregation has soil types ranging from red sandy loam through to heavy grey clay. The July-August calving cow herd consists of 200 Murray Grey cows joined to Angus bulls, and 450 Angus cows joined to full blood Wagyu bulls. Calves are paddock weaned in February-March at 280-350kg. And grown out to 520kg at 15 months of age on pasture, silage and hay. The Angus-Murray Grey cross calves are sold over-the-hooks to Teys Australia. While the Wagyu-cross calves are sold to Rangers Valley feedlot.

Mr Shuter is seeking to achieve a balance between organic and conventional products. But plans to move to a chemical-free program in the long term. Naturally deficient in zinc and phosphorus, the soil was treated to 250kg/ha of single super each year for the first four years of ownership. Annual soil tests have revealed a pH range of 4.8 to 5.2. This year, 400ha of new pastures were sown across the aggregation. “We are still using conventional fertiliser at a maintenance level of 100kg/ha single super and 100kg/ha DAP to sow pastures.’’ Mr Shuter said. “We also spread mill sludge from the nearby newsprint mill at the rate of 70 tonnes/ha.’’

Worm Farm

A worm farm was established on Gerowalla last year to produce worm juice and castings for the family’s own use. Fodder and manure waste from the feed pads are placed in a single windrow (containing one tonne of tiger compost worms) on a sloping concrete pad, measuring 15m long by 6m wide. The worm juice drains into a one-metre deep silt trap, then into a 15,000 litre underground tank before being pumped into shuttles. Production is estimated at 55,000 litres a year. “I am a big believer in creating ideal conditions for the soil microbiology.’’ Mr Shuter said.

“If we have worm juice available, we spray an additional 30 litres/ha of worm juice mixed with 30 litres/ha of water and a second application of TM Ag by fan jet, the second application usually in July-August. ‘’ The fire presented an opportunity to plant shelter belts using 2000 trees. Some being donated by the Greater Hume Shire. “We applied the TM Ag and worm juice to all the trees and had a 100% strike rate,’’ Mr Shuter said.

“The TM Ag is applied to pastures in April-May with a broadleaf spray and secondly, as an in-crop spray. “We sowed 160ha of Eurabbie oats this year, applying TM and worm juice at pre and post-sowing, and the crop had been grazed twice by mid June.’’ The cattle are cell grazed around a system of 8-12ha paddocks, entering the pasture at 3200kgDM/ha and leaving at 800kgDM/ha. “Each mob spends a month to six weeks in each paddock, and individual paddocks are grazed about three times a year at the most,’’ Mr Shuter said.

Biological System

He said the biological treatments had improved soil aeration and water infiltration, and reduced soil compaction and inputs on Gerowalla and Noojee. “There is virtually no run-off on these properties now and both places were renowned as being wet,’’ he said. “The pastures are able to hang on for longer with white clover growing through to January-February. “The clay soil has become much more workable I can go anywhere on the property with a shovel and dig up earthworms.” “Productivity has lifted enormously – the district average carrying capacity is 12-13 DSE/ha, and on Gerowalla and Noojee we are achieving 22DSE/ha.

“The native dung beetles are active here and we are conscious of only using one dung beetle-friendly drench at weaning. We have use insecticides minimally, only on new pasture if there is a risk of earth mite or lucerne flea infestation. “We have found the use of worm juice and TM Ag each year enables established pastures to withstand earthmite and lucerne flea invasion. “There is some loss of clover leaf but the plants recover quickly and keep growing. “Today, consumers are wanting to know where their food comes from and how healthy it is. “Once our pasture is fully established, the plan is to go organic as possible, only using the TM and worm juice mix.’’

 

Media Release By

Kim Woods | Director

Outcross Media | www.ogacreative.com.au
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