BioAg Fertiliser Programs

Why Fertiliser and Fertility Programs?

Because our products and programs deliver more than just a program for the coming season.

Our Programs deliver year one nutrients and improve fertiliser productivity, while also taking a longer-term approach towards building the fertility of your farm.

By year two, your soils fertility will be increased rather than depleted, production is enhanced, crops and pastures are healthier and more resistant to stresses, and your entire system becomes more sustainable.

About BioAg Fertiliser and Fertility Programs

BioAg Better Fertiliser Programs produce living, healthy and balanced soil, improve the production and quality of yield, and improve fertiliser use efficiency.

Programs are available for a wide range of crop types and pastures, and we have included many sample programs below.

If you can’t find a sample program suited to your situation then contact a BioAg Area Manager for more details.

Each program is custom made for each paddock using advanced soil and tissue analysis.

Programs typically incorporate a range of BioAg solid natural fertilisers and BioAg Liquid Microbial Fermented Cultures, as well as traditional inputs and micronutrients.

A biological system starts to become self-sustaining within three to five years, but producers will begin to notice a visible difference in the health of their soils during the first year.

BioAg Fertility Programs provide the foundation for sustainable, efficient production.

Benefits

The benefits that BioAg Better Programs deliver include improved soil structure, water infiltration and retention; reduced stubble retention; improved germination and crop establishment; reduced weed competition and disease; improved populations of beneficial insects; improved resistance to insects, disease and climatic extremes; improved crop yields and grain quality.

Many long-term customers experience higher gross margins through fewer inputs of conventional fertilisers and pesticides, fewer passes across the paddock in the tractor and greater fuel efficiency during tillage as the soil is easier to work.

Organic Producers

BioAg Better Fertiliser and Fertility Programs can be developed to meet BFA certification requirements for organic producers.

More about BioAg’s approach to crop and pasture fertility

BioAg produces a range of biologically-active nutrients and programs that help to produce a living, healthy and balanced soil for optimum plant and livestock productivity.

Developed specifically for Australian farming systems, BioAg solid natural reactive-phosphate-based fertilisers and liquid microbial fermented cultures are suitable for use in all cropping, grazing and horticultural situations.

The BioAg approach combines the best practices and products from conventional farming, organics, biodynamics and other areas to deliver successful biological farming systems that increase the efficiency and profitability of plant and livestock production.

Besides providing a source of plant-available nutrients, particularly phosphate and calcium, BioAg products increase microbial mass and diversity by delivering a complex food supply directly to the “foodweb”.

These products also incorporate a range of other nutrients and vitamins, including sulphur, magnesium, potassium, trace elements (iron, zinc, copper, boron, manganese, molybdenum, cobalt, nickel, selenium, sodium, chlorine), vitamins B, C, & E, Silica (Horsetail), Dandelion and other herbs, blocks and glue for efficient nutrition.

Once the biological system becomes self-sustaining within three to five years, producers will begin to notice a visible difference in the health of their soils, plants and livestock.

Observed benefits include:

Balanced, fertile, productive soils
Improved soil structure, water infiltration and retention
Reduced stubble retention problems.
Improved germination and crop establishment
Reduced weed competition and crop disease
Improved populations of beneficial insects
Improved resistance to insects, disease and climatic extremes
Higher quality crops and pastures
Healthier, more productive livestock
Improved efficiency and profitability

Our customers also obtain greater gross margins through fewer inputs of conventional fertilisers and pesticides, fewer passes across the paddock in the tractor and greater fuel efficiency during tillage as the soil is easier to work.

The bottom line is increased yield and quality in cropping and horticultural situations, and increased growth rates, fertility and animal health in grazing enterprises.

Soil Fertility

Phosphate

Phosphate performs a number of essential roles in plants.

Primarily, it acts as a catalyst for photosynthesis, the process that converts the sun’s energy into simple sugars. In turn, these sugars provide a source of energy for most functions in plants and animals.

It also transports and regulates nutrient uptake into the plant by acting as the major carrier of essential cations, such as calcium.

Phosphate sugars are involved in DNA strands.

Building and maintaining a good phosphate bank it is essential to improve pasture performance and provide flow-on benefits in the cropping phase.

The ratio of available phosphate to potash in the soil is also important for soil fertility. As this ratio approaches 2:1, there will be less leaching of nutrients, less erosion and reduced broadleaf weed pressure.

Ironically, phosphate is plentiful in many soils, although it is functionally deficient as it is “locked up” in forms that are unavailable to plants. This is because most conventional phosphate fertilisers are derived from rock phosphate, which consists of tri-calcium phosphate, a stable and insoluble compound. To make the phosphate more available to the plant, fertiliser manufacturers use strong acids (e.g. sulphuric acid or phosphoric acid) to remove the calcium, resulting in a soluble but unstable phosphate ion. Applied to the soil, this highly acidic, negatively-charged phosphate ion is drawn to unattached positively-charged ions (e.g. iron, aluminium, calcium and magnesium) in order to return to a stable state. In effect, it becomes “locked up” and unavailable to plants.

Calcium

Calcium is another integral part of soil, plant and animal nutrition.

Basic to every living cell, calcium contributes to the strength and thickness of the cell wall and helps to regulate cell functions and water content.

In plants, it stimulates root, stem and foliar growth. In animals, it is essential for bone and muscle development in animals.

Calcium interacts with other nutrients and micro-organisms in the soil to improve the availability of nutrients and metabolites.

Optimum soil conditions exist when the calcium to magnesium ratio is 7:1.

A low Ca:Mg ratio (e.g. 2:1) results in a tight soil that is sticky and slick when wet, and hard and compact when dry. Nutritionally, the soil will have excess magnesium and be deficient in calcium and nitrogen. The lack of oxygen will also reduce microbial activity.

Conversely, a high Ca:Mg ratio (e.g. 10:1) will result in a flocculating soil. The soil opens up, but there is no structure and leaching occurs. Nitrogen moves into the plant in a soluble form allowing nitrates to accumulate, possibly leading to bloat and grass tetany in livestock.

In conventional farming systems, lime (CaCO3) is often applied to correct soil pH. Ideally, the functional availability of calcium should be maintained throughout the year via small, frequent applications of lime rather than massive amounts once a year.

Soil Foodweb

Healthy soils also contain a diverse and active array of macro- and micro-organisms, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms and arthopods.

The “soil foodweb” a.k.a. soil food web performs a number of vital roles:

Fixing nitrogen and carbon from the air for plant uptake;

Regulating the soil environment, especially the functional availability of nutrients and buffering the soil pH;

Digesting organic matter into humus to release plant-available nutrients;

Providing metabolites essential for efficient plant growth; and,

Holding soil particles together to slow erosion and for moisture holding ability.

Farming with Biological Inputs

Many Australian farmers and other stakeholders are seeking alternatives to current farm management practices, particularly the reliance on pesticides and high analysis fertilisers.

Biological farming is one such alternative. It presents a viable method of producing high quality, nutritious produce with reduced dependence on inorganic fertilisers, pesticides or gene modification.

Biological farming is based on scientific principles and common sense. Central to this is the realisation that microbes are the basis of all agricultural production systems.

Many farmers are already familiar with the importance of microbes in ruminant nutrition.

Another example is the role of Rhizobiumbacteria in encouraging nitrogen fixation in legumes.

Producers need to understand the natural processes that occur on their farm, and then learn how to look for the indicators that identify a lack of microbial activity – and its obvious effect on available plant and livestock nutrition. Insects, disease and weeds are such indicators. Conventional management dictates that these pests are removed using pesticides. Biological farming addresses the cause of these problems, rather than the symptoms.

In order to maximise plant-available nutrition, and thus livestock-available nutrition, it is necessary to create a thriving and sustainable microbial activity in the soil itself.

In most farmed and grazed soils, the size and diversity of the soil foodweb is now insufficient to provide self-sustaining fertility and plant nutrition at required levels of production. This not only decreases the amount of organic matter converted to humus and microbial activity over time, but impacts on the soil’s capacity to hold water.

For example, it is estimated that a one percent increase in humus can allow soil to hold an extra 80,000 litres of water per hectare.

The application of microbial nutrients, such as fermented liquid cultures, to bare earth or foliage helps to establish a thriving and sustainable microbial population in the soil.

The soil foodweb plays an important role in converting previously-applied calcium and phosphate that has been locked up as tri-calcium phosphate back into plant-usable forms.

If the system is balanced, the soil foodweb will also help to maintain a satisfactory soil pH.

By improving soil microbial mass and diversity, producers can improve the natural fertility of their soils. In turn, this increases the amount of plant-available and therefore livestock-available nutrients.

Biological farming presents a major challenge to conventional thinking. Despite this, many Australian farmers have already successfully incorporated the principles of biological farming into their operations, most producers need to see it in practice before they can truly comprehend it.

For more information about biological farming, visit Biological Farmers of Australia.

The Pasture Ecosystem

As pasture based livestock producers we are in the business of harvesting solar energy and converting it to food & fiber. We attempt to manage plants to optimize this harvesting of solar energy via the management of the above ground portion of the pasture. However there is more biomass & biological activity occurring beneath us than we realize.

What does live beneath us?

All living things have a place or a niche in the pasture ecosystem. Each has an optimum physical and chemical environment which provides adequate amounts of food and cover, allowing the species concerned to reproduce and maintain itself. The environment is based on the climate, the time of year, soil texture, position on the landscape and management.

Here is a brief summary of what lies beneath our feet.

Plant Roots – these are essential to the above ground producers. They gather water and nutrient for the plant and provide a major source of live & dead matter for food for soil organisms.

Earthworms – eat dead plant material and are opportunistic predators of bacteria, protozoa, nematodes & fungi when they consume the dead plant material. They act as a shredder to large pieces of organic matter (OM). They aerate and invert the soil improving soil drainage and help with particle aggregation. They can also act as a food source (e.g. to birds)

Slugs & Snails – similar to earth worms in that they break down larger pieces of OM and can act as a food source.

Nematodes – consume plant roots & algae, predate on bacteria, protozoa, fungi & other nematodes. Help in the nitrogen cycle (by eating bacteria and releasing the nitrogen back into the soil) and are also a food source to other nematodes, fungi & mites.

Woodlice – feed on dead plant material, help shred course OM. Can act as a food source to birds & spiders

Spiders are predators

Mites – consume algae and can predate on nematodes, springtails, fungi, insect larva & eggs. Some also feed on decomposing OM

Centipedes & Millipedes – mostly predators of insects, slugs & worms but can consume decomposing OM

Springtails, Beetles, Ants & Termites – generally consume dead OM & fungi and help with the ecological function of soil aeration, soil inversion and nutrient cycling in the over soil community. They both predate and act as food sources to other insects & birds

Bacteria – are central in the nitrogen cycle (via root nodules on legumes). Bacteria also feed on decomposing OM breaking protein down into ammonia whilst also converting ammonia to nitrate. Bacteria also act a food source to protozoa & nematodes

Actinomycetes – look like a fungus but are closely related to bacteria. Help decompose dead OM; some also help with nitrogen fixation while others can act as plant parasites

Protozoa – 3 main types, consume bacteria and are food to nematodes

Fungi – come as molds, mycorrhizae and mushrooms. They decompose dead OM. Some fungi are predators on nematodes. Mycorrhizae fungi have a symbiotic relationship with plants supplying the plant with mineral nutrients in exchange for energy & protein. There are 2 main types of Mycorrhizal fungi: ectomycorrizal (cover root surfaces) and endomycorrhizal (enter inside the plant root cells). Fungi also produce glomalin, a glue like material essential in the formation of soil aggregates.

What do they actually do?

All these organisms work together in our pasture system via nutrient cycling and the solar energy flow within the ecosystem.

The green leaves of plants gather solar radiation via photosynthesis. The plants take carbon from the air, water from the soil & lock the energy into sugar while releasing oxygen to the atmosphere. Plants then take the sugar and add nitrogen (supplied from the soil or via rhizobia bacteria with legumes) to make proteins. Plants then use these sugars & proteins to grow new shoots, leaves & roots. This metabolism needs the use of all the macro (N, P, K, S, Ca, and Mg) and micro (Cu, Zn, N, Mn, Mo, Fe, and B) nutrients. Plants are the primary producers in the pasture food web.

When stock graze a pasture, plants drop off some roots while they are in the process of growing new leaves. Along with the roots clover plants drop some of their nodules. Earthworms eat these dead roots as they burrow through the soil while bacteria decompose dead roots and nodules that the earthworms do not eat. Later earthworms may end up consuming these bacteria as they go back through the soil.

Some bacteria prefer the highly digestible sugars and proteins while other bacteria prefer the readily digestible fiber. After the really digestible parts are digested, fungus and actinomycetes go to work digesting the less digestible fiber and lignin. Ultimately the indigestible carbon forms somewhat stable soil humus. All of this activity is necessary for the decomposition of dead plant material to return the mineral nutrients to the soil to be used again by plants. This is the process of nutrient cycling.

During grazing stock also tread down part of the pasture sward. This material likewise is consumed by earthworms and detritus feeding insects, mites, bacteria, and fungus releasing C back to the air as they use the carbohydrates for energy and the protein nitrogen and minerals to sustain themselves. When organic matter energy is in good supply bacteria hold onto the nitrogen, divide, and make a whole lot more of themselves. Then when predatory nematodes and protozoa come alone they eat the bacteria and release a large part of the nitrogen (what that they don’t need) back into the soil where it is available for plants to use.

Niches and micro-environments

As we walk across pasture we notice that different grasses, forbs, and legumes grow best in different parts of the landscape. These different sites present different soil environments. The plants that do well on a part of the pasture are those adapted to the soil chemical and physical environment in that area. They are also tolerant of the timing and intensity of grazing placed on them by the animals as controlled by the farmer. These plants have found their niche or place in the pasture community.

The same principles apply below ground. There are many species of bacteria, protozoa and other microorganisms that have the same ecological function in the soil. Some do better where the soil has a high pH others do better where the soil is lower in pH. Some do best when the soil is cool others do best when the soil is warm. Having high species diversity is good since it ensures good microbiological activity across a range of environmental conditions.

Stock also drop dung and urine back on the soil surface. Dung is the residue of the forage that the rumen bacteria and protozoa and acid stomach did not digest. Urine contains the nitrogen that was excess to the stocks ability to convert rumen nitrogen to bacterial protein and protein that was excess to the stock’s need for growth and/or milk production.

Dung is quickly inhabited by dung beetles, fly larva and other beetles that eat fly larva, earthworms, and bacteria. One group of dung beetles lays its eggs in the cow pie while another takes the dung and moves it into burrows in the soil under the cow pie to lay eggs. A third group of dung beetles take small balls of dung and roll them away for burial in the soil as food for their larva. These dung beetles are demonstrating different physical niches or niches separated in space. Different species of dung beetles within these groups use the dung at different times of the year demonstrating different temporal niches. After a while fungus and actinomycetes invade the cow pie and help decompose the more resistant forms of carbon.

Soil Moisture a controlling factor

All of this biological activity affects plant productivity by cycling nutrients. It also has major effects on the soil portion of the water cycle. Earthworms and dung beetles assist water infiltration by making passageways from the surface into the lower soil. Earthworms, bacteria and fungus assist by making glues that hold soil particles together making them stable when wet so that the soil has more, small, stable passages for water infiltration. All of this improves water infiltration during rain storms resulting in more water going into the soil and less running off the surface. The organic matter and soil micropores increase the amount of plant available water the soil can hold after a rainfall event. This allows plants to grow well and longer between rains.

Nitrogen fixation and cycling

Pasture growth is highly dependent on available nitrogen. Nitrogen fixing legumes and their symbiotic bacteria are a critical component in the pasture ecosystem. Healthy and active nodules are identified by their red interior. This colour is caused by the iron containing red hemoglobin used as part of the nitrogen fixing system and is similar to the hemoglobin in blood. Different strains of rhizobium form symbiotic relations with different legume species. When planting legumes it is important to inoculate the seed with the bacterial strain that will become a symbiont with the legume being planted.

Nitrogen fixed by the legume and bacteria is first supplied to the legume. Therefore, in a new seeding the grass at first does not get much nitrogen from the legume. Legume nitrogen enters the soil through nitrogen rich root exudates, root and nodule death, livestock trampling, and dung and urine deposition. This nitrogen is made available to grasses and legumes as the organic matter is broken apart by the shredders and decomposed by the detritus feeders, bacteria, and fungus.

With time the legume roots meet with mycorrhizal fungus which attaches to the root. The mycorrhizal fungus also attach to grass roots. Then the fungus offers the clover extra phosphate in exchange for carbohydrate and nitrogen. The fungus provides part of the nitrogen to the grass from which it obtained the phosphate in exchange for carbohydrates. The fungus also obtains phosphate and trace minerals from the soil that it uses in this bartering system.

Accumulation of ammonia in the plant or high nitrate in the soil limits N fixation. Legumes preferentially use available soil N since there is a high energy cost to fixing N. Grasses are more competitive then legumes in taking up soil N due to their fibrous root systems. In soils that are high in nitrate grasses will have increased N uptake and be more competitive with the legume. This occurs in established grass-legume pastures as the organic matter builds up and a healthy microorganism community breaks the organic matter down releasing the nitrogen and converting it to nitrate. In these pastures grasses have a competitive advantage and the legumes may disappear. After a period of time the soil organic matter decreases and the available soil nitrate decreases causing the grasses to be less vigorous and the clovers come back in to the system. This is one of the causes of clover cycles in pastures.

Management thoughts needed to help the system

So what are the management practices required to help the pasture ecosystem function at its best?

  1. Lime the soil to provide the pH that is optimal for plant, rhizobia, and other microbes in the soil
  2. Apply adequate but not excessive amounts of mineral or organic fertilizers to the system.
  3. When seeding legumes make sure to inoculate the seed with the bacteria that will become a symbiont with the legume species being planted.
  4. Manage the nutrients already on the farm. Grazing recycles nutrients in pastures. Manure management should recycle nutrients to the fields from which the feed was harvested. Manure stimulates earthworm populations and activity as well as microbial populations and activity. Organic on-farm sources of nutrients include hay, other feed wastes, manure, and bedding. Where hay is fed back on pastures forage yields can be increased 2-fold during late spring droughts. This is due to higher soil organic matter holding additional plant available water. In wet years, yields can be 1.5 fold greater than where no hay was fed.
  5. Graze pastures at the timing and intensity suitable for the forage species present. Grazing tall grass pastures to a 5 cm residual height during cool, moist weather benefits legumes and their rhizobia which fix nitrogen for all the organisms in the pasture system. Grazing too close during hot droughts can be detrimental to cool-season grasses and legume. Do not over graze.
  6. Close, rotational grazing of pastures in the autumn helps develop tillers in the cool-season grasses and stolons on white clovers
  7. Rotationally graze pastures to get good ground cover between grazing events to provide breeding and feeding cover for night crawler earthworms. Night crawlers need adequate food and cover for reproduction especially in the cool moist weather of the spring and fall. Earthworms, like most other animals, prefer legumes over grasses for forage.
  8. When choosing fly and parasite control options consider their effect on dung beetles and other dung feeding insects and organisms.
  9. When choosing weed control options consider their effect on other plants and soil microorganisms. Co-grazing livestock such as sheep and goat that convert “weeds” to marketable animal products and manure has a positive effect on the pasture ecosystem.

 

Above ground we manage grasses, legumes, and forbs with animals to capture solar energy, convert solar energy into marketable livestock products, and to cycle nutrients so that our pasture-livestock system can be sustainable. The result of our management influences the soil environment and the organic matter available to feed macro- and microorganisms in the soil. This affects the soil’s physical condition, availability of macro- and micronutrients to grasses, legumes and forbs, and plant available soil moisture. Understanding how our management affects the soil community can assist us in our management of the entire pasture ecosystem.

References:
E.B Rayburn – Pasture Ecology: Managing Things That We Cannot See: 2009
USDA/NRCS. Soil Biology Web Site. http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/concepts/soil_biology/biology.html