Addressing Compaction with Seed Versus Steel

Darren Long talks about soil structure at the Soil First Tasmania Seed vs Steel field walk

In mid-April a group of around 30 farmers and agronomists explored the potential of including cover crops in their toolbox of practices to manage soil compaction.

The Seed Versus Steel farm walk was organised by the Soil First Tasmania group with support from farm hosts Premium Fresh and Cradle Coast NRM.

Premium Fresh has been trialling changes to paddock management including strip tillage and the introduction of cover crops to improve structure and microbial activity in soils unavoidably pressured by wet weather bed preparation and harvesting.

Soil First Tasmania President, David Roberts-Thompson said that approaching cover crops with the same level of planning as applied to commercial plantings helped maximise their effectiveness.

“The right species of cover crop can enable the roots to do a significant amount of work between commercial crops, not only in countering compaction but also in adding organic matter and building up microbial populations,” said Dave.

“But they need to be managed just like any other crop, especially coordinating the timing and rotation of the next compatible planting.”

A mixed cover crop of mustard (Caliente), rocket (Nemat) and black oats was used at the Premium Fresh demonstration site following a carrot harvest.  Conventional tillage methods were also used as a comparison alongside a control paddock. The cover crop produced higher levels of organic matter with good root penetration.

“The trial visibly showed difference in soil structure between treatments and a no-cover-crop control. This further demonstrated the positive effects of living roots to soil structure.  When it comes to soil recovery you need strong root systems to do the job not a bigger tractor,” said Dave.

“We’re now expanding the tests to determine the efficacy of 12 different cover crops in a comparison planting.”

The Soil First Tasmania group took the learnings from the last, smaller trial and hopes to share knowledge on the mechanisms to build soil structure and health.

“It’s such a fundamental topic but is not universally understood,” said Dave.

“At some time or another all farms are faced with the challenge of having to work wet ground; how we aid recovery of those paddocks using plant roots that have the potential to also boost organic, nutrient and microbial levels is a growing area of interest.”

Coupled with the advantages of emerging strip tillage practices, the cover crop trials and growing soil health knowledge is setting Cradle Coast land managers on a good footing for a successful and sustainable future.

To find out about the region’s cover crop trials, visit Soil First Tasmania on Facebook.

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