Plant diversity key to soil health

Mackay region sugarcane farmer trials plant diversity to improve soil health


Marian cane farmer Simon Mattsson has planted sunflowers to improve soil health. Picture: Reef Catchments.

Marian cane farmer Simon Mattsson has planted sunflowers to improve soil health. Picture: Reef Catchments.

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"Mixed-farming" key to success, says Marian sugar cane farmer.

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Eight different plant species are being introduced to a North Queensland sugar cane farm in a bid to improve soil health and diversify income streams.

Marian cane farmer Simon Mattson is conducting a multi species trial on his 190 hectare property, and has planted sunflowers, radish, turnip, chickpea, soybean, common vetch, cereal rye and oats beside the sugarcane stool after harvest.

“I am principally a sugar cane farmer though these days I like to call myself a mixed farmer,” Mr Mattsson said.

“I've got a fair bit of stuff happening besides just sugar cane and it's all about biodiversity which is aimed at improving soil health.

“It gets back to nutrient cycling, every plant species enhances a different range of biological functions, and it’s biological function that science is really discovering of late that is responsible for the bulk of the nutrient cycling that happens in our soil. 

“So to gain as much biological function as possible, you need as broader range of plant species as possible”.

Mr Mattsson received a Nuttfield Scholarship in 2014, which enabled him to visit agricultural systems around the world including in the UK, USA, Brazil, India and South Africa.

“My desire was to investigate soil health and the fundamentals that sustain good practices that will provide the basis of a sustainable production system into the future,” he said.

Mr Mattsson said low levels of soil carbon, soil calcium and compacted soils were the big issues affecting soil health.

“These are a critical challenge for sugar farmers that will impact the future viability of our industry,” he said.

“In the Mackay region, a monoculture cropping system has led to declining levels of soil carbon and reduced diversity in the soil biology.

“This trail aims to show the benefits of reintroducing plant diversity.”

Mr Mattsson said he in-cropped eight different plant species alongside the cane, which remained there for about three months while the cane was still small.

He has also recently introduced cattle as another way to enhance nutrients.

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