Home' On The Land : April 21st 2011 Contents THERE'S grass --- and then there's
really good grass.
No, we're not talking about an
illegal substance here --- just the
stuff that cows eat.
Grass may look much the same to
the eye, but Barongarook West dairy
farmer Neil Widdicombe will tell
you about the difference.
He and his wife, Kay, learnt the
hard way, having farmed for 15
years before realising conventional
techniques weren't producing very
"We run a high performance herd
and we were throwing on heaps of
urea and growing plenty of grass.
But you could never fill the cows up.
They would eat and eat and were
Tests on the grass showed it was
very low in sugar. While the Holstein
cattle were eating vast amounts, they
weren't deriving the energy needed
to sustain their 10,000 litre-plus
annual milk production.
A few years ago Neil visited a
biological farming establishment
in the United States run by soil
scientist and agricultural consultant
Arden Andersen. He liked what he
saw and followed up by attending
a study tour of biological farms in
Three years ago he did a course
in Queensland with Graeme Sait, a
recognised world leader in sustain-
It was the turning point in the
Widdicombe's farming practices
and the start of a journey that led
to the couple winning the Natural
Resource Management Award at the
Great South West Dairy Awards two
The reason the picturesque, un-
dulating farm produced such lousy
grass lay 100mm below the surface.
A test with a penetrometer, which
measures the pressure needed to
push a rod into the soil, found a
heavily compacted barrier of soil
just 100mm down.
"That's as far as the roots were
going, so they didn't have access to
many nutrients," Mr Widdicombe
The solution to his problem lay
in abandoning the conventional
approach to fertiliser and adopting
biological farming techniques that
encourage soil biology. The most
visible measure of this change is
the worm count.
Before changing methods, a shovel
of earth would contain only a couple
of worms; now it will contain about
50. But worms are merely the vis-
ible giants of soil biology --- if there
are worms there will also be many
forms of microscopic life that exist
in a symbiotic relationship with
"We've stopped being grass
farmers and started farming bugs
in the soil," Mr Widdicombe said.
The switch to biological farming
began with a comprehensive soil
test that discovered the need for a
one-off fertiliser application that
included lime as well as the trace
elements copper, cobalt, selenium
and zinc. Maintenance fertiliser is
now applied as a foliar spray made
up of liquid nitrogen, molasses,
fulvic acid and potassium sulphate.
Compost from the Camperdown
Compost Company is also used, as
well as effluent from the 350-cow
dairy, chook manure and a seaweed
In just three years, the results
have been spectacular. The soil is
becoming more friable, the grass
can put down deeper roots and its
sugar levels have increased six to
Red-legged earthmites and aphids
have disappeared because the
high-nutrient grass is not suitable
for their diet.
THURSDAY, April 21, 2011 ON THE LAND -- 1
Neil Widdicombe and eight-year-old-son, Ty, at the family's award-winning farm.
110418SH07 Picture: STEVE HYNES
CONTINUED PAGE 2
The dirt on bugs, soil, effluent and the best grass around
By STEVE HYNESROOT FLAWS
0409 011 938
0418 131 504
0418 131 984
94 Caramut Road,
Phone 5562 1744
Graeme McFadden Robert Collins
The Natural Way
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