Healthy soils, stock and pasture – Analysing Productivity and Practices

Year of study:


Lead organisation & collaborators:

Westernport Catchment Landcare Network

AgPath (soil microbiology analysis)





Peter Ronalds

Sustainable Agriculture Project Officer

Westernport Catchment Landcare Network

Mob: 0402 650 382

Office: 5941 8446


Project details


Two major research sites and multiple farm demonstrate sites were established to provide farmers with an understanding of the impacts various fertilisers have on plant growth and various chemical, physical and biological soil characteristics. The trials tested conventional and a range of alternative fertiliser products.


Monitoring different applications of conventional and alternative fertiliser products, looking how they affect soil chemistry, growth rates and costs and test the claims of sellers.

Basis of trial:

Trial seeks to quantify the impacts on soil chemistry, growth rates and costs of various fertiliser products.

Best available science assessment:

Overall score: 28

Overall rating: high


Conceptual model

Study design

Soil analysis

Production & financial

Method reporting

Data analysis

Results reporting












Location Details:

Management practices tested:

Trial conducted over 3 years. Originally National Landcare Program project.

Six trial sites, two of them are scientific sites with controls. The other four use test strips used on farms for demonstrations.

Two major trial sites- 21 plots (10m*1.5m wide), used 1 control and 6 treatments. Each had 3 replicates. Randomly selected, fenced from livestock.

Every time pastures got to grazing height, lawn mower used to cut to standard height. Wet pasture weighed and sub-sample dried to determine pasture growth. Send every second harvest for feed test, other harvest to tissue analysis. Collect soil samples- 1 per year (SWEP). Apply fertiliser every 12 months. Soil; samples every harvests- collected and send to AGPAR (microbiology analysis). Cultured in their lab to determine fungi & bacteria.

Measured the readings- refractor meter. Every harvest- soil compaction (penetrometer), soil thermometers (temp), water holding capacity, salinity and pH every harvest.

Four minor sites- test strips down a paddock, not replicated. Farmers- normal application of fertilisers, then added 3 others. One of the 4 trialled around 8 products (unreplicated). Cattle had access, farmer would call before grazing. Measure with plate meter to record pasture growth.

Measurements included: feed test-digestibility; EAL- alternative harvest- tissue tested. Soil chemistry each 12 months.

One site burnt on Black Saturday. Re sown. Additional soil samples.

Trial site details:

3 years- 1 year pilot trial, applied on major trial sites

Grant to run for a further 2 years (one trial site has 3 years)

Longwarry- a 2 years of data

Others- 2 years of data

Stopped June 30 2010. (We are continuing, but not soil microbiology analysis-annuals, still growth rates)

Drought for couple of years (dry)

The first 2 years of the site- pilot year were very dry, third year was back to normal season. This year, flood season.

One hit by black Saturday (Feb 2009)- minor trial sites.

Vervale- major (Longwarry- 899.2mm) acid peat soil flat (swamp)
Longwarry- major (Longwarry- 899.2mm) Sandy loam flat
Jindivick- minor (Jindivick- 1152.9mm) heavy clay lower slope- slightly westerly facing high (5 degrees)
Labertouche- minor (Labertouche- 955.8mm) sandy clay loam flat
Garfield South- minor (Longwarry- 899.2mm) acid peat flat
Garfield North- minor (Longwarry- 899.2mm) light clay/clay sand flat

Pre-trial management

Vervale- major Beef Lime
Longwarry- major Steer
Jindivick- minor Dairy Lime
Labertouche- minor Dairy Lime
Garfield South- minor Beef
Garfield North- minor Organic beef

Trial management:

Vervale- major beef- no grazing during trials (rotational) 6 fertiliser treatments measured against a control (alternative & conventional
Longwarry- major no grazing during trials (rotational), 1.5-2 steer/ha As above
Jindivick- minor dairy (rotational), 3.5milkers/ha Synthetic fertilisers, ureas, chook poo, seaweeds
Labertouche- minor dairy (rotational), 1.5-2 cows/ha Synthetic fertilisers, ureas, hay booster, chook poos etc
Garfield South- minor beef(rotational) Lime, chook poo, organic & conventional
Garfield North- minor organic beef(rotational) All Organic


Trial design:

2 major trial sites have a control with 6 treatments. All of the plots have 3 replicates

Biochar used. Not control layout.

Summary of key findings of a trial:

Statistical differences between treatments.

Different fertiliser products responded differently at each of the trial sites.

Chicken manure responded best over trial sites: in terms of enhanced pasture digestability, metabolisable energy and dry matter yield.

pH response to lime (± various fertilisers) variable. One main trial site pH increase less with lime + fertiliser and at the other lime + fertiliser had greater pH increase.

Treatment Results:

Variation in soil C with time and management influence:

Measured total carbon, not as to Aust Standards. Not benchmarking. Only in strip cell test.

Variation in soil pH with time and management influence:

Measured that- statistically, yes some response (shown below). All numbers crunched by Monash.2 major trial sites- Statistical significance with pH, water holding capacity, digestibility. Dr Phil Rayment (Churchill)

Site pH (initial) pH (with treatment)
1 5.4 6.0
2 5.4 5.9
3 5.4 5.6
4 5.4 5.9
5 5.4 5.8
6 5.4 5.6
7 5.4 5.6
A 6.2 6.2
B 6.2 6.6
C 6.2 7.1
D 6.2 7.0
E 6.2 6.9
F 6.2 6.3
G 6.2 6.8
A 6.0 6.1
B 6.0 6.0
C 6.0 6.1
D 6.0 6.1
Garfield North
A 6.4 6.3
B 6.4 6.4
C 6.4 6.4
D 6.4 6.6
E 6.4 5.9
F 6.4 6.3
G 6.4 6.4
H 6.4 6.3
I 6.4 6.4
A 5.0 6.3
B 5.0 6.0
C 5.0 6.1
D 5.0 5.8

Variation in productivity/ profitability with time & management influence:

Significant differences in between different treatments- production, digestibility in pasture. A summary of measured dry matter yields over the sites is shown as follows.

Site Dry matter yields (kg/ha/day)
1 31.8
2 24.3
3 31.6
4 24.7
5 22.3
6 21.6
7 20.7
A 21.1
B 23.4
C 28.2
D 23.8
E 24.0
F 21.8
G 21.6
Jindivick T/DM/ha (over two years)
A 20.92
B 21.90
C 21.24
D 17.63
Garfield North T/DM/ha (over two years)
A 6.46
B 7.08
C 7.53
D 5.79
E 8.47
F 5.97
G 6.49
H 6.95
I 5.76
Labertouche T/DM/ha (over two years)
A 9.87
B 6.36
C 5.75
D 4.38

Other measures of treatment response (e.g. water quality):

Pasture composition- talking composition, yearly basis.

Experimental design:



  1. Control
  2. Chemical (urea, potash, sulphate of ammonia, lime, phosphate)
  3. Chook Poo
  4. Compost Fish
  5. TNN
  6. Organic
  7. Rock Phosphate


  1. Control
  2. Chemical (urea, potash, sulphate of ammonia, lime, magnesium)
  3. Chook Poo
  4. Compost Fish
  5. TNN
  6. Organic
  7. Biochar Chemical


  1. Total Agronomy (urea, gypsum, magnesium, guano etc)
  2. Fair dinkum (seaweed, boron, urea, molybdenum)
  3. Chook Poo
  4. Chemical Control


  1. Chook poo/lime
  2. Urea/potash/lime
  3. Urea/lime/potash
  4. Urea/potash/phosphate

Garfield South

  1. Agrisolutions (compost, fish, kelp, lime)
  2. TNN
  3. Chook Poo
  4. Control

Garfield North

  1. Control
  2. SFW Compost Tea
  3. Fish and kelp
  4. Camperdown Compost
  1. Everything (kelp, fish, compost)
  2. Control with minerals (Zn, Mn, K, B)
  3. SFW Compost Tea with minerals (Zn, Mn, K, B)
  4. Fish & kelp with minerals (Zn, Mn, K, B)
  5. Camperdown Compost with minerals (Zn, Mn, K, B)



How the results have been reported:

Report to Government every 6 months, field days. Technical report.

How a copy of any relevant can be obtained:

Released publicly in June (web). Printing off for those interested in it.

Level of review of results:

Final report- Mary is looking at results. Phil Raymond has gone over. One of the authors- microbiology (university contributions). The other with SWEPT. DPI review. (Peer reviewed- internal)

Soil sampling method:

Baseline sampling- SWEP soil test, covering trial site area before any products went down. 30 samples (Longwarry- 40m*15m), in that area. Also Microbiology was benchmarked In paddock. 10cm, bulk baseline. 0-10cm, taken. Separated out- samples from control and bag them up, samples from each treatment. Microbiology (every harvest) and chemistry (1/annum) Core samples Chemistry- SWEP Microbiology- ? Culture. Put in plastic dishes- grid them and count. Microbiology- bacteria, actinomycete, fungi Chemistry- standard ag test- complete test. pH, CaCO2, water, P, N, B, Mg EAL- NATA SWEP- NATA Feed test- pastures (standard lab with DPI)

Production Measurements:

Vervale- Mowing, weighing, drying, weighing Longwarry- Mowing, weighing, drying, weighing Jindivick- Plate meter- DPI formula Labertouche- Plate meter- DPI formula Garfield South- Plate meter- DPI formula Garfield North- Plate meter- DPI formula Pasture meter etc.. Measure protein, metabolised energy- pasture yield not crop yield. Tissue analysis- nutrients. How much pasture was grown- measured it.

Cost and value of production:

Trial site

Costs (for 4 years)


Control $548
Chemical (urea, potash, sulphate of ammonia, lime, phosphate) $1008
Chook Poo $1,072
Compost Fish $1,286
TNN $1,484
Organic $1,312
Rock Phosphate $1,513

Costs (for 3 years)


Control $72
Chemical (urea, potash, sulphate of ammonia, lime, magnesium) $591
Chook Poo $482
Compost Fish $1,026
TNN $814
Organic $898
Biochar Chemical $609

Costs (for 2 years)


Total Agronomy (urea, gypsum, magnesium, guano etc) $1,083
Fair dinkum (seaweed, boron, urea, molybdenum) $257
Chook Poo $13
Chemical Control $247


Chook poo/lime $401
Urea/potash/lime $778
Urea/lime/potash $782
Urea/potash/phosphate $431

Garfield South

Agrisolutions (compost, fish, kelp, lime) $392
TNN $513
Chook Poo $308
Control $0

Garfield North

Control $0
SFW Compost Tea $75
Fish and kelp $1,095
Camperdown Compost $741
Everything (kelp, fish, compost) $1,687
Control with minerals (Zn, Mn, K, B) $23
SFW Compost Tea with minerals (Zn, Mn, K, B) $98
Fish & kelp with minerals (Zn, Mn, K, B) $1,118
Camperdown Compost with minerals (Zn, Mn, K, B) $764
Fish & kelp with minerals (Zn, Mn, K, B) $764

Next steps

Some surprises between treatments. Alternative products have been extremely successful and cost effective, other treatments weren’t.

If the soil is fertile to start with, there is more chance of alternative products responding well

Water is a key contributor to pasture growth. During drought, bigger differences in responses.


With major sites- not much improvement to be made in trial. Covered well. Longwarry site- last year (wet), extra drainage would be helpful, as it was difficult to mow it.

People should do a lot more trialling (test strips). People are spending a lot of money on fertilisers. Results from different fertilisers vary between properties and so there is a lot to gain from on-property test strips. Some of the most responsive product were cheapest, no waster products..