Wimmera farmers will have the opportunity to hear from one of Australia's leading soil scientists on an issue often put in the too-hard basket, soil fertility decline.
In June, Agriculture Victoria will be hosting four workshops on building soil carbon and nitrogen across the Wimmera, with CSIRO principal research scientist Dr Mark Farrell speaking at the events.
Dr Farrell has worked with the CSIRO for 11 years and has been involved in soil carbon and nitrogen research across the grain, cotton, and dairy industries.
The workshops will explain how soil organic matter is declining in Australian agricultural systems, including dryland grain farms.
This has resulted in a significant fall in soil nutrient stocks, particularly nitrogen.
Dr Farrell said older knowledge of soil carbon and nitrogen has become antiquated in light of new research.
"The two fields I work in, both nitrogen science and organic carbon have pretty much flipped on their heads by the time it has taken me to get from undergraduate to now," he said.
"Anyone one older than me, and I am in my late 30s, was taught things that have undergone substantial changes that help us understand why organic matter appears so vulnerable to management change. I will be going through an update on organic matter research."
Dr Farrell said the research started to uncover why soil fertility has been decreasing and wanted to offer practical solutions to growers and advisers to tackle the issue.
"The strongest argument is that if you increase the amount of biomass you are going to increase the amount of carbon going into the soil," he said.
"We all know that growers are striving to ultimately get greater yields, with the presumption that the harvest index does not change too much.
"If you grow more crops, grow more grain, ultimately you grow more wheat plants which means more wheat root. That will go back into the soil.
"Speaking on my environmental science background I spend an awful lot of time telling growers to put more nitrogen back into the ground. So for someone that is supposed to be a greenie I use that as my evidence point."
He hopes the workshops will be accessible to grower and agricultural advisers, with a take-home message of growing more plants to increase soil productivity.
"A lot of growers ask me why can't they just apply more fertiliser. One is, ultimately soil organic matter is a much better slow release fertiliser than you would ever be able to buy," he said.
"As it gets moist and warmer it is mineralising much quicker than if it is warm and dry or cold and wet. So it is much better suited to the plant's demand which means there is much less to be lost."
Dr Farrell said that rebuilding soil carbon and nitrogen stocks can involve overcoming soil constraints, including cover crops and legumes in the rotation and nitrogen budgeting over multiple seasons.
The free workshops will be held on June 16, at Taylors Lake Hall at 8.30am, Brim Recreation Reserve at 2pm, and June 17 at Goroke Golf Club at 8.30am and Netherby Hall at 1.30pm.
Registrations are essential. For more information, text or call Heather Drendel on 0427 868 705.
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