Could Compost be the Key to Utilising Salinity in Soil?

Demonstrating the effects of variable rate compost applications on salt scolds!

The RALF team and NACC NRM have recently taken on a new challenge, joining forces with biological soil consultant Ken Bailey, to establish a three-year trial looking at the effects of variable rate applications of compost on a salt scold, with local Perenjori farmer Brian Baxter.

There has been a small amount of research looking at the use of compost to ameliorate saline scolds with positive effects but minimal on-ground implementation of this to date. Salinity is a significant constraint to farming in the Northern Agricultural Region. Often sites that are saline are low-lying, where the soils retain more water and can display greater drought tolerance as a result, however, salinity inhibits their potential for plant growth and, therefore, productivity.

We hope that this project can support landholders to adapt and increase their resilience to significant changes in climate by demonstrating a method for reducing constraints and increasing productivity in these salinity-affected areas.

The demonstration has been started this winter, with variable rates of compost applied in strips across the trial site. Compost has been applied at rates of 1, 2 and 3 tonnes per hectare plus a control strip. Comprehensive soil testing will be carried out at regular intervals throughout the trial, with baseline samples collected prior to compost application.

Data will initially be collected over three years, as adding biological amendments such as compost to soils to improve soil health is often slow to produce demonstrable results. Applying compost can have a substantial upfront cost, and this coupled with a relatively slow response time has been identified as a key barrier to adoption by farmers. This project will allow us to gather longer-term data to share with landholders in the NAR.

The purpose of the project is to provide information to farmers who may be considering using compost as an ameliorant for salt-affected land. We hope to investigate how effective it is for improving soils and allowing crops and perennial pastures to be grown and investigate the effects of different application rates.

In 2022 barley and other grain crops will be planted in some areas of the site. We are also collaborating with the Yarra Yarra Catchment Management Group to establish both summer and winter active grasses at the site.

We are looking forward to holding field walks and future workshops at this site. We also hope to provide an opportunity for students of the nearby Morawa Agricultural College to visit the trial site and get some hands-on experience of various soil testing techniques.

For further information about this project or to register your interest in attending any upcoming field walks, please contact NACC’s Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator Team Lizzie King and Annabelle Garratt. /

This demonstration is supported by NACC NRM, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Lizzie King – Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator

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