Soil trials aim to keep carbon on the farm

By Dairy News

A series of soil trials starting on an Ecklin South dairy farm will test what types of applications are best for improving soil health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The trials are part of an ambitious pilot program that could create significant soil, animal health and emissions improvements on farms across the region.

Keeping Carbon on the Farm is testing a suite of activities that dairy farmers and other primary producers can undertake to reduce their emissions and better prepare for climate change.

The pilot at the Doolan family farm will include revegetation, carbon-sequestering soil amelioration trials and energy reduction strategies.

It is being driven by a project committee led by Heytesbury District Landcare Network and is funded by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning through the Virtual Centre for Climate Change Innovation program.

Field trials started last week to test a mix of 10 per cent biochar and 90 per cent compost. Fifteen plots were established, consisting of three controls, three controls with fertiliser, and three each of low, medium and high biochar-compost applications with fertiliser.

Farmer Sam Doolan said the trials would test which applications best improved soil health and increased carbon content.

“We will run the cows as usual and won’t fence off any of the plots so we get a true indication of the success of the applications,” Mr Doolan said.

“One of the goals is to cut back fertiliser use for cost savings and better environmental results.”

An energy audit has been completed at the farm and will be repeated in mid-2020 to compare improvements and three soil tests will be conducted to check carbon levels and microbial activity.

A total of 5000 trees will be planted to create new shelter belts and future plans could also include solar panels and an energy monitoring system.

HDLN Landcare co-ordinator Geoff Rollinson said it was an exciting program that would create a better understanding of the impact of climate change on dairy farmers and how they could reduce their energy use.

“We expect to see reductions in whole-of-farm greenhouse gas emissions, increased levels of carbon sequestration in soil, improved soil and paddock health and improved cow health and productivity,” Mr Rollinson said.

The initial energy audit found 12 different meters being used around the farm.

“We’ve gone through the report and are about to implement changes to reduce our energy use,” Mr Doolan said.

“We hope to transform our farming practices and save money on energy and make sure everything is more efficient.”

Mr Doolan’s mother Carol is taking an interest in the biodiversity projects and brother Peter, an electrician, is implementing new electricity systems.

Mr Rollinson said it was hoped the results could be shared with other dairy farms and potentially beef and sheep farms.

“It’s not just about reducing emissions for the sake of reducing emissions, you get improved soil health and better animal health and production which are important to the farm’s bottom line,” Mr Rollinson said.

“We’re getting baseline information now and 12 months down the track it will be an interesting story.”

On-site field days are planned later in the project to share updates with the farming community.

The project group includes HDLN, DELWP, the Doolan Farms family, Deakin University, Corangamite CMA, Corangamite Shire, Triple R Biochar, Camperdown Compost and Dr Jane Stanley who leads the energy audits.