When Millmerran land manager Paul Maher attended a multispecies cover-cropping information day with Southern Queensland Landscapes and Millmerran Landcare, he never thought he would dedicate his entire oat cultivation to it.
“I was all new to it. I wanted better returns for the feed and better soil health; so I went to a field day and Ian Moss from FARM Agronomy was talking about multispecies cover-cropping and it sounded interesting so I thought I’d give it a go,” Paul Maher said.
Multispecies cover-cropping refers to planting diverse and beneficial plants with your crop to improve soil health and create a more resilient paddock. Based on his soil type and goals, Mr Marr worked with FARM Agronomy to come up with a mix of field peas, winfred forage brassica, tillage radish, turnip, and volga vetch to plant with his oats.
“The first year we trialled 16 hectares, and I planted them beside a non-multispecies paddock. When it was side by side you could see the difference. The oats looked better, the colour was good, there was a bigger body of feed there, and the cattle were more drawn to it,” Mr Maher said.
Mr Maher’s goal was to improve his soil health and reduce inputs on his mixed grazing and cropping operation 30 kilometres south of Millmerran.
“I’ve found with the multispecies there’s feed value plus I’m improving the soil. The cattle are gaining weight and it’s better quality feed. After I sprayed the ground when the oats were finished – the soil was a lot softer and smoother than on the land without it; so in dry years, the oats with the multispecies will do better,” he said.
“I’ll plant it with the multispecies every year now, and this year we were so impressed with the first year, so we did 86 hectares, which is all of our oats,” he said.
Soil scientist and Principal Project Officer Vanessa Macdonald said planting with multispecies is increasingly more attractive to land managers wanting to keep their soil healthy, boost productivity and save time on the tractor.
“If your focus is improving soil health, then diversity and multispecies is the key to achieving that. We see benefits for all land managers looking towards diversity. It’s about understanding your long term goals and what issues you’re trying to address,” Vanessa Macdonald said.
“The indicator that something needs to change is what’s present in the pasture. Take a look at the grasses – what species are there, and what species should be there? Are there weeds, signs of erosion, invasive species or native vegetation?” Ms Macdonald said.
“Land managers like Paul Maher are seeing real improvements in the land,” she said.
“With multispecies, there’s less maintenance – so it saves me time on the tractor and money on spraying chemicals. You just plant it and let it go. I don’t have to spray any weeds, because I haven’t noticed any weeds. I’m hoping as I continue planting, the legumes in the multispecies will put more nitrogen into the soil so I can even reduce fertiliser input,” Paul Maher said.
“I’ve had people drive past and call in and see what’s going on because it’s somewhat unusual for the region. They’ll pull up and ask what I’m growing. It’s got oats, radish and all these white flowers – it’s eye-catching for people passing by,” Mr Maher said.
“My advice is that it’s about trial and error. Just do a small area and see how it goes on your property with your soil types,” he said
Vanessa Macdonald agreed saying working with your land and setting up for success is the best way forward.
“You’ll need to ask yourself, is the seed bed right, do I have moisture, have I got the right mix for my land? FARM can help you answer these questions,” Ms Macdonald said.
Land managers keen to learn more about multispecies cover cropping should get in contact with FARM Agronomy or Southern Queensland Landscapes today.