7 - Soil fertility
The Cicerone Project included a study of three 53-ha farmlets, each subjected to a different management system. The systems varied first in their input of fertilisers and sown pastures and second in their grazing management. Farmlet A undertook a high level of pasture renovation and had soil fertility targets of 60 mg/kg Colwell phosphorus (P) and 10 mg/kg KCl-40 sulfur (S), while farmlets B and C both had a low rate of pasture renovation and targets of 20 mg/kg P and 6.5 mg/kg S. In addition, both farmlets A and B adopted a flexible rotational grazing regime over the eight paddocks of each farmlet, whereas farmlet C, which had 37 paddocks, adopted intensive rotational grazing.
This paper first reviews the literature relating to soil fertility research in the summer-dominant rainfall region of the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia. It then examines whether the soil fertility targets set for the farmlets were attained and how the consequences of fertiliser management measured in this trial related to earlier research findings.
Fertiliser applications, comprising both capital and maintenance rates, were based on soil test results but at times were constrained by the availability of finance. Soil tests over 5 years indicated that only nitrogen (N), P and S varied with time within the farmlets while the other indices of soil fertility remained similar. Phosphorus and S levels increased in response to fertiliser applications whereas N levels responded to increases in legume composition, which was stimulated by the higher P and S levels. Multivariate statistical analyses demonstrated that farmlet productivity was driven by P and S fertility and thus the two farmlets with lower P and S fertility (farmlets B and C) had similar but lower levels of farmlet productivity compared with farmlet A. Significant increases in several measured pasture productivity parameters were observed in response to the higher P and S fertility on farmlet A, especially when climatic conditions were favourable. The results of the Cicerone farmlet experiment confirm the findings of earlier research on the Northern Tablelands, and elsewhere in the high rainfall zone, that has demonstrated that higher soil fertility levels and pasture renovation enhance the productivity of grazing enterprises more than grazing management, without imposing significant risks to the environment.
Whole-farm management of soil nutrients drives productive grazing systems: the Cicerone farmlet experiment confirms earlier research
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