Soil hydration restored through deep rooted plants

Brian Marshall, an Holistic Management educator and a program Verifier based at Guyra with landholder Chris Main preparing the evaluation of ten monitoring sites at his property Retreat, near Dirnaseer.
Brian Marshall, an Holistic Management educator and a program Verifier based at Guyra with landholder Chris Main preparing the evaluation of ten monitoring sites at his property Retreat, near Dirnaseer.

On the surveyed road which runs through his property Retreat near Dirnaseer, Chris Main observed a canoe tree, which gave him pause to consider the changes to the landscape wrought since European settlement.

"The old parish maps show a swamp near the homestead which would have been a permanent source of water, but now it is dry and desiccated," Mr Main said.

The old parish maps show a swamp near the homestead which would have been a permanent source of water, but now it is dry and desiccated

Chris Main, Retreat, Dirnaseer

"So one of my landscape goals is to allow that swamp to return along with running water into the creek which is only a gutter at present."

The main swamp had been filled during 2016 and he said it was fantastic to see other swamps in areas not seen for many years, but they all dried quickly.

"I'm convinced in time we will bring the swamp back," Mr Main said.

"I want to get back the bounteous landscape that was here before it was farmed.

"It is hoped a management change will assist the re-hydration of the landscape."

Chris Main is a member of the Australian Holistic Management Cooperative and is transitioning from cropping to a livestock enterprise.

He is participating in the 'Land to Market' Ecological Outcome Verification monitoring program with Brian Marshall, an Holistic Management educator and a program Verifier.

They have been conducting an evaluation of ten monitoring sites at 'Retreat'.

"The program is a practical and scalable soil and landscape assessment methodology that tracks outcomes of both leading and lagging indicators of biodiversity, soil health and ecosystem function," Mr Marshall said.

"These indicators are responding to both the weather and management decisions consciously or sub-consciously applied to the land."

Mr Main is practising 'holistic planned grazing' where his cattle are moved to achieve higher short-term impact while minimising overgrazing, allowing adequate plant recovery and encouraging a diversity of plant species following grazing.

Grazing plans, low inputs restore soil health

On the family property, Retreat near Dirnaseer, Chris Main is reducing inputs alongside a dedicated change in his longterm grazing strategy in an effort to restore soil health and still operate a viable pastoral enterprise.

"I haven't used fertilizers or chemicals and I find it awesome to watch what is coming up in the paddock," he said.

Mr Main's ambition is to make the farm, which has been held by his family since 1906, a lot more productive with no purchased inputs.

"The biological capital of this property has declined on a very steep line since the 1850's," he said.

"I want more deep rooted perennial grasses and to re-hydrate the soil.

"It is not just because of rainfall deficiency that the soil is so dry, it is desiccated because of declining organic matter."

Brian Marshall, an Holistic Management educator and a program Verifier based at Guyra made the point that the only way to reverse the steady decline of annual flow rates in our rivers is to hold the moisture in the soil for longer and to release it slowly.

"Grazing is the major 'tool' applied to our catchments and a change to planned grazing encouraging deep rooted perennial plants, grazed rather than 'over-grazed', with adequate recovery periods can result in improved 'seep out' through springs and soaks into creeks and ultimately into rivers," he said.

"We need to focus on how we are managing the soil surface."

In essence Mr Marshall said that what they are doing is planning the grazing moves to be approximately right for the plant, the animal, the land and our personal schedule.

"We are not 'rotating' the animals around a set of paddocks," he said.

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