What does a farmer do when the kids are sick with gastro and it’s raining? Paperwork. Although I detest the oceans of sheets that flood my desk, the one batch that carries the same anticipation as a Christmas present is my annual set of soil tests.
These geeky looking sheets let me know what type of fertiliser to spread and where. Now, once upon a time, the farm’s fertiliser order was pretty basic (3 in 1 on one side of the road and 2 in 1 on the other) and it shows. Some paddocks had luxury levels of phosphorous and a shortfall of potassium, while most had miserably low pH results. Accordingly, we are now spending less on phosphorous and more on potassium and lime (both standard calcium and dolomitic).
The rotten thing about acidic soils associated with high aluminium levels, as ours have been, is that they make many of the nutrients unavailable for the plants.
Getting the nutrient levels right with the help of soil testing and observing the signs of nutrient deficiencies has led to a massive reduction in the volume of inorganic nutrients we apply to the paddocks. This has saved our family tens of thousands of dollars and boosted the growth of our pastures while lowering the risk of leaching into waterways. A big win for the sustainability of the farm.