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Soil nutrient puzzle examined

13 September 2011 | Categories: , , ,

Farmers from varied backgrounds learnt about soil health, management and testing at a series of seminars organised by I K Caldwell last week.

The object was to arm the farmers with enough information to make better decisions and to ask relevant questions, not turn them into experts, workshop presenter Chris Dowling said.

"It's not teaching people to be soil nutrionists or plant specialists; it's giving background knowledge so they can ask relevant questions and sort out who is going to be able to do the right job for them," Mr Dowling said.

"Today was about saying: where does it all fit?; and challenging farmers to think about where they want their soils to be in the future, compared to where they are now."

Mr Dowling said during the past few years fertiliser prices had encouraged farmers to become more careful about what they spent, and more precise about soil nutrition.

He said technology was helping soil nutrition become more targeted, but farmer experience and observation should not be dismissed.

"A lot of stuff you can do is to confirm what the farmer would tell you anyway - but we apply technology so we can quantify it and manage it better," Mr Dowling said.

"Most farmers sitting on a header will be able to tell you where the thin patches are every year and how it changes from year to year.

"All the technology does is place it on the paddock, put in on a map, quantify it. Then we go back and investigate with soil testing technology to find out why it is happening."

Mr Dowling, who is the technology services manager for the Back Paddock company, said soil nutrients might have built up in soils during the drought.

He suspects many farmers will have continued to supply phosphorous to their soils despite the poor prospects, and some underutilised nutrients will have remained.

"If it hasn't been lost or used, then it's there somewhere," he said.

I K Caldwell agronomist Scott Bartlett said he was frequently asked about nitrogen availability.

"Because of the past droughts, we are coming into a spring that is looking favourable and then are looking at when and how much nitrogen to apply for protein and yield."