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Soil Health Workshop at Dromana Climate Smart Farm

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Simple, accurate, fast, low-tech soil health assessments and monitoring tools

The dirt

A group of farmers and land managers on the Mornington Peninsula got their hands dirty with me at a soil health monitoring and assessment workshop at the Dromana Climate Smart Farm. We had a great turn out that bodes really well for soil health, in fact the group said "the biggest one we've had yet"! It wasn't for bystanders though, participants got to be soil scientists for the morning taking turns doing the assessments. I'll talk about what we did but first a little about the world leading Project on the farm...

The Dromana Climate Smart Farm

The Dromana Climate Smart Farm combines clean energy production, regenerative agriculture, farm diversification, micro-enterprises, educational sharing as well as creating high positive social impact. The Farm is designed around a 4.85MW solar farm, the soil health renovation project, carbon drawdown, productive plantings, pollinator friendly habitats, live streaming educational data and Indigenous promotion. Nothing beats hearing about the project from Volt Farmer's Stephen Todd and the group were very engaged by the talk Stephen gave about the Project. Talk to Stephen about sourcing discounted clean energy from a Volt Farmer project so you can provide direct support for Australian farmers via their ‘Turning Electricity into Healthy Soil" Program.

Soil health assessments

When we assess and monitor soil, we do so with the soil characteristics as a central launching point. We are thinking about soil from an ecological, functional and systems perspective, using science as a language to convey changes over time.

To this end, the group dug into a number of visual soil health assessments using a systems thinking and process approach. Synthesizing a number of recognised soil assessment tools, the group got their hands dirty doing the monitoring and learning from others in the group.

Without measurement there’s no management

If you can’t see it… you can’t measure it

If you can’t measure it… you can’t manage it

If you can’t manage it… you can’t improve it

Like us, every soil has a unique personality, individuality and characteristics which can be deciphered by a trained eye. The soil profile is the final synthesis of the entire landscape, it is the representation of processes occurring between the biological and organisms, physical and chemical, between parent material, climate, relief or topography, and current and previous plant life. It is also influenced by our understanding of soil function and land management practices.

The individual observations of the soil surface indicators can be grouped into stability, infiltration and nutrient cycling. Each of which have distinct significance for landscape function monitoring. It’s another way of thinking about soil health by assessing landscape function using known analysis methods.

What did we assess?

  • Dispersion and slaking (aggregate stability)

  • Compaction

  • Depth of topsoil

  • Porosity

  • Mottles

  • Soil colour

  • Soil structure

  • Water infiltration

  • Dung breakdown / incorporation

  • Nodulation

  • Organism diversity

  • Rhizosheaths

  • Earthworms

  • Soil smell

  • General ground cover

  • Productive ground cover

  • Age class of the ground cover

  • Diversity of species

  • Composition and pasture growth

  • Soil texture

  • pH

  • Brix

  • Electrical conductivity

  • Fertility and fertiliser use and biomimicry

The day also included a soil coring demonstration to 1m depth, as we do taking soil carbon measurements

A healthy soil

  • Buffers against climactic extremes

  • Supplies nutrients, water and oxygen for healthy plant growth plus plant growth hormones, vitamins and enzymes

  • Allows water to infiltrate freely and stores water

  • Resists erosion and disease

  • Readily exchanges gases with the atmosphere

  • Retains nutrients

  • Acts as an environmental buffer in the landscape

  • Contains a large and diverse population of soil biota

  • Is not acidifying or salinising

  • Has a range of pore spaces to house organisms, nutrients and water

It is not possible to give a set of chemical, physical and biological characteristics for “healthy soil”. It will vary depending on the inherent qualities of the vast array of soils that exist. It is clear that soil management will have a big influence on what level of health occurs.

For more info Contact Adrianna at Bootstrap Environmental Services

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