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Soil health results measure up the Mallee

An extensive three-year monitoring program measuring key indicators of soil health is nearing completion, with the results to be used to establish benchmarks for soil health in the Victorian Mallee.

Soil health results measure up the Mallee

Soil health monitoring underway in the Vicorian Mallee.

The survey is conducted by Mallee Sustainable Farming (MSF), with support from the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA), through funding from the Victorian Government.

Mallee CMA chairperson Sharyon Peart said the soil health survey will be a valuable resource in increasing our knowledge to protect and improving the health of our dryland agricultural region.

“Declining soil health can have detrimental impacts on the environment and severe economic and social repercussions for the region,” she said.

"It’s important to monitor any changes to the soil health of our region to ensure we are taking the right steps to secure healthier soils in the Mallee.”

The soil health monitoring is undertaken between late February and early March with the key soil health indicators measured every three years at 157 Focus sites.

The survey began last year, with the monitoring of sites in the Central Mallee land system. This year, soil health testing was undertaken in the Millewa, Tempy and Boigbeat land systems and next year, the monitoring will be completed with testing at sites in the Culgoa and Hopetoun land systems.

“Once initial monitoring of all sites is completed, benchmark levels for soil health indicators can be established and will form the basis for monitoring future changes and trends in soil health of the Mallee region,” Ms Peart said.

“The benchmark levels will form the basis for monitoring changes and trends in soil health indicators at focus sites on a three year cycle.

“Once benchmark levels for soil health indicators are established, interpretation of the historic land management and soil health indicator data can also be undertaken.”

Southern Mallee sites within the Boigbeat land system were found to have higher levels of organic carbon and nitrogen than the northern Millewa and Central Mallee land systems, while, on average, organic carbon levels were found to be very low across all sites monitored. Mallee soils are generally low in soil carbon due to the inherent sandy texture of the soils, the low rainfall climate and regular disturbance of the soil. Organic carbon is very important to soil health as it is essential for maintaining biological activity in soil, supplying nutrients to plants and building soil structure.

Average phosphorus levels were between 20 and 30 mg/kg which is much higher than natural levels due to phosphorus fertiliser application, so is therefore accepted as adequate for sustainable crop production. Most naturally occurring Australian soils, including the Mallee soils, have very low phosphorus levels.

The next round of monitoring is scheduled for February 2012 in the Hopetoun and Culgoa land systems.

Further detail on the results can be found in the Mallee Dryland Agricultural Soil Health Monitoring Program 2010 and 2011 final reports, available here

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