Soil health innovation key to robust crops

Wednesday 23 June, 2021

Irrigator Fraser PogueFor Ardmona irrigator Fraser Pogue, healthy soil and low-water use go hand-in-hand.

Fraser has spent years perfecting practices, to achieve lower use of insecticide or fungicide as possible, and introducing biological liquid fertilisers.

Growing a mixture of corn, wheat and cereals in conjunction with cover crops means he can maintain groundcover throughout the year, and helps increase the diversity and health of the soil. After years of research and experimentation, he has it down to a fine art.

“Going back a number of years, I got a bit sick of the conventional model of using herbicides, insecticides and fungicides,” Fraser said.

“I thought, why don’t we start to try and improve soil health for our crops in the same way we do for our veggie gardens?

“As a result of research, I found that getting a lot of diversity into your soil helps with keeping the soil healthy.”

Much of Fraser’s research has centred around soil microbes and how the organisms can create an environment for the most efficient crop growth.

These techniques have also helped protect the soil from drying out, and makes it less susceptible to extremes such as heat and frost.

“Soil health is a big part of dealing with a changing climate – you can potentially get higher efficiencies out of your water use when your soil is in good health,” he said.

“In my belief, it can also help your crops deal with the extremes of weather, and in our case it’s helped with the resilience of the crops.

“It makes it more robust and potentially has the effect of increasing organic carbons in our soil, which is an advantage – it helps sequester carbon in the soil and keep it out of the atmosphere.”

Initially a dairy farmer in Toolamba, Fraser switched industries in 2003 when difficulties with prices and water allocations hit.

With climate change and a diminishing agricultural footprint, he said it was more important than ever for farmers to look at new innovations.

“Historically this region is one of the best places to farm in Australia. We’ve got brilliant infrastructure and great water supply thanks to the irrigation systems. Drainage is another big benefit, and close access to markets,” he said.

“Access to irrigation water is key – but the cost of water is what makes things hard. The security and access to water in our region is great otherwise.

“We’ve been going down this soil health path and it’s worked exceptionally well for us – I really encourage others to try it out and look at how they might be able to do things differently. At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to be the best farmers we can.”

Fraser also featured in the film 2040 – a story by Australian filmmaker Damon Gameau who is hoping to inspire others to help build a better planet for future generations in his documentary about climate change.

Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) Managing Director Charmaine Quick said irrigators such as Fraser showed the region’s primary producers weren’t afraid to embrace innovation and change.

She believes access to a secure irrigation supply is inspiring a new generation of farmers who are clearly thinking outside the square.

“The Goulburn Murray Irrigation District is fuelled by a rare combination of productive assets, nutrient dense soil, long hours of sunlight but most importantly access to precious irrigation water,” Ms Quick said.

“For more than a century, primary producers have accessed the irrigation delivery system, operated by GMW. Irrigation powers this intensive agricultural industry generating a globally renowned food production mecca.

“I am hearing first-hand about how producers are achieving efficiencies on farm to grow superior crops and ensuring our region remains prosperous now and for decades to come.”