The fine art of soil conservation

Chris FerreiraCountryman

If you are keen to keep your soil on your paddocks — and not blowing or washing off into the great beyond — then it is vital to adopt good soil conservation principles.

This becomes even more important when you are about to bring someone in to seed new crops and pasture, because if they are not up with the latest soil management practices — and really should have a big ‘cowboy’ branded on their forehead — then this can be the single most effective way to lose your landscape.

So you will need to be firm. Stick to your guns and insist that on your place, whoever works the land abides by the principles outlined below.

Principle One: Minimise soil cultivation

The best way to keep your soil intact and healthy is to leave it undisturbed and protected from the brutal elements.

If you must use cultivation, be sure to do so very sparingly and carefully, using it only when you are ready to replace an existing vegetation cover with a new crop or pasture.

Farmers call this minimum or ‘no-till farming’, and it has helped to revolutionise soil health and conservation on their properties.

Principle Two: Don’t scratch too deep

Remember, the deeper you go the more trouble you will cause — weeds, erosion and soil structure decline will take on a whole new meaning. Deep cultivation is the pits, so try to keep it shallow, ideally less than 2.5cm deep.

Principle Three: Only allow contour cultivation

Make sure whoever is ploughing or rotary hoeing cultivates across, and not down, the slope.

We call this ‘working on the contour’ and it is the business for soil management.

Unlike cultivating down the hill, which is like setting up an expressway for soil loss, cultivation with the slope sets up little soil barriers that help to slow down and hopefully stop water runoff (and hence erosion).

To cement this as the practice of choice, you can augment this work with tree-lined contour banks that sweep and wind across large sloping paddocks, as you will see on farms that have been managed well.

Be warned, however. Many contractors do not like working on the contour, because it takes longer and they feel it is less safe. (I am sure that if you were driving through your paddocks, you would prefer to go down or up rather than across the slope.)

Be firm and insist that wherever they can, they only do contour cultivation — your soil will thank you for it. Remember, one heavy rain event on a bare and poorly cultivated paddock can wash away hundreds of years’ worth of irreplaceable soil.

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