Mulch trials to boost soil health

Tablelands growers trial mulch to reduce chemical use

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Michelle Milicevics lime crop is part of trials using wood chip, tea tree and hay mulch.

Michelle Milicevics lime crop is part of trials using wood chip, tea tree and hay mulch.

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Lime growers on the Atherton Tablelands are trialing unique mulch blends in a bid to reduce chemical use and improve soil heath.

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LIME growers on the Atherton Tablelands are trialing unique mulch blends in a bid to reduce chemical use and improve soil heath.

Commercial lime grower Michelle Milicevic is among those trialing tea tree, woodchip and hay mulches to help reduce chemical inputs on her land.

She is one of two lime producers involved in trials by natural resource management organisation Terrain NRM and Wet Tropics Soil, a group of more than 60 Far North farmers working to improve soil health on their properties.

"This year we've been working on lessening chemical inputs and applying compost and mulch is part of this,'' Mrs Milicevic said.

"We usually spray to keep the weeds down so that our sprinklers work well.

"Now we're mowing the weeds and throwing them back under the trees instead, and the trials are giving us an idea of how different types of mulches will perform."

Terrain NRM's Rowan Shee said two sites with tea tree, woodchip and hay mulch would be monitored every six months for the next four years.

"We'll compare baseline soil assessments with a focus on carbon levels and building up the soil's biology,'' Mr Shee said.

"We'll also be looking at things like water infiltration and compaction levels."

The Wet Tropics Soil Group's Mal Everett said the benefits of mulch were well-documented - from building up organic matter and improving water-holding capacity to suppressing weeds and reducing run-off.

"Now we want to look more closely at the soil biology side of things,'' Mr Everett said.

Wood chips are also being used as mulch.

Wood chips are also being used as mulch.

"Hay has always been the standard mulch for commercial crops.

"With a gradual resurgence in the tea tree industry and sources for more woodchip on the Tablelands now seems like a good time to be assessing options."

Mr Shee said annual soil assessments were also happening on seven Tablelands cattle properties where farmers were changing to rotational grazing practices to improve soil health and productivity.

"We are looking at how effective grazing changes are in building carbon in the soils, increasing the root depth of grasses and improving general soil health,'' he said.

The trials are part of Terrain NRM's Digging Deeper Plus soil health project that has worked with more than 150 farmers from all over the Wet Tropics region through on-farm workshops with soil health practitioners, tailored farm management plans and free soil tests.

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