BioAg Case Study Pastures, Middleton, SA

There is a beef enterprise in South Australia undertaking practices farmers in the future may well apply as routine measures to improve sustainability.

While the practices applied by Jeff Higgins near Middleton are not new or complex, the key features are the extent of their application and the thought that goes into preparing
for the future.

“While the old “super” habits give some immediate benefits (as the P is water soluble) they do not have the  benefits of P being steadily released”.

For example, today we see long tracts of native vegetation, from small shrubs to tall mature gums, bordering paddocks. These enrich the natural landscape while providing shelter for livestock. Such benefits enjoyed today have their roots more than two decades ago when Jeff became an early member of Trees for Life.

Micro-climate modification and livestock protection are benefits of protected plantings of such indigenous species as blue gum, pink gum, manna gum and sheoak. Value is enhanced by incorporation of understorey species.

Another illustration of farming for future needs is soil testing to guide replenishment of nutrients removed by grazing and haymaking. Again this is not a new concept but the approach is very diligent. A specific recent case is a hay paddock which early this year  started to look a bit run down compared with neighbouring paddocks. Soil tests showed several deficiencies including phosphorus, sulphur and some minor elements.

These deficiencies were corrected, resulting in the rich mixture of sub clover and grasses in the pictures following. Importantly, however, it was the way the correction was made that led to this result, particularly the use of reactive rock phosphate in the form of BioAgPhos.

So, what is it about BioAgPhos that is important? Phil Toy of BioAg says the difference between traditional superphosphate and reactive rock phosphate is that while the old “super” habits give some immediate benefits (as the P is water soluble) they do not have the benefits of P being steadily released. While one third of the P in BioAgPhos is immediately available (being citrate soluble) the remainder is slowly made available by micro-organisms & soil chemistry.

While there is a difference between superphosphate and reactive rock phosphate there is also a difference between BioAgPhos and other forms of reactive rock phosphate. A major difference is the sourcing, with the base product coming from Algeria which can provide the fertiliser without significant levels of heavy metals like cadmium. Another difference is the addition of a microbial culture inoculated to make nutrients more readily available.

Rich mix of sub clover and grasses following corrective action utilising BioAgPhos.

From a practical viewpoint, Phil Peters whose business Mount Compass Fertilisers serves the Higgins enterprise, sees BioAgPhos as a time and cost saver.

“If sufficient BioAgPhos is applied then phosphorus is available to pasture all year whereas superphosphate may have to be applied in a second spread which means additional time and cost,” Phil Peters said. “Then there is the matter of excessive leaching,  particularly in deep sands, which means loss of nutrients and likely environmental consequences.”

Extremely low herbicide use and application of BioAgPhos guard against contamination of dams and streams.

Apart from the sheer volume of pasture growth in the hay paddock used in this illustration there is an abundance of preferred pasture species and a very significant reduction in capeweed.

The health of legume species in particular sets the paddock up for a good boost of nitrogen and a prolific seed set. Jeff Higgins says “This must be the most cost effective renovation you can get.”

There is no weedicide program, just control of the odd thistle or invasive blackberry by spot spraying. Similarly, bracken is kept at bay with a good P regime in the paddocks and dumping of hay on plants that are seen when supplementary feeding. Another benefit of the system is a near absence of red legged earth mite which was once common and regularly controlled by spraying.

Very low chemical runoff and  phosphorus leaching has, in Jeff’s opinion, been the reason for high populations of yabbies and fish in dams.

While Jeff is clearly a thinker and planner he says he does not work by a calendar of set tasks but by  observation, looking at the condition of cattle and the mixture and density of plants. As shown in the hay paddock case study, new life can come with the right fertiliser products and nutrient balance. 

Products used in this case study