Sugarcane farmer and 2014 Nuffield Australia Scholar, Simon Mattsson, says farmers need to move away from simple or no crop rotations, and look to plant diversity for soil health.
Mr Mattsson and his family run a 190-hectare property at Marian, near Mackay, producing sugarcane, soybeans and chickpeas in rotation, utilising a two-metre controlled traffic farming system.
Part of his Nuffield studies focussed on the beneficial and predatory microbial activities that are crucial to sustaining productive soils.
Cane production at Mackay has suffered a nine per cent decline every five years for the last 20 years, something Mr Mattsson said can be reversed by building soil health through plant diversity and biological activity.
“If you want a range of biology in any agricultural situation, you will need a range of plants, otherwise you’ll limit your biological diversity which limits your farms productive capacity and increases your environmental impact,” Mr Mattsson said.
“One of the main differences between successful farmers and the rest is that they take advantage of the key elements: Sunlight, rainfall, carbon and nitrogen.
“You need to implement a continuous regime of minimum mechanical soil disturbance, maintain permanent organic soil cover and a living root in the soil as well as plant diverse crop species in sequences or associations.”
On-property he has experimented with multi-species intercropping trials to enhance soil biology, planting sunflowers and sugarcane in the same season, and within one metre of each other.