How this ‘worm lasagne’ helps grow soil carbon to store ‘an extra 70,000L of water per hectare’

In the top paddock of her cattle farm in what some locals call the 'regen region', Karen Jarling is making 'worm lasagne'.

Layering a rich mix of cow and horse manure, mushroom compost, and rock mineral, she added composting worms and covered them with mulch.

"They turn it into the most amazing sticky, almost black moist material, it's just magic stuff," Ms Jarling said.

The vermicast, produced by the worms, will gravity-feed downhill and help reignite biological activity.

A big swathe of straw laid out in a paddock.
Composting worms are placed into a mix of manure and mineral rock, then covered with straw.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Jennifer Nichols)

"The fertility and the water holding capacity of the soil within about 100 metre radius of this will increase, it wicks out through the soil, it's really amazing," Ms Jarling said.

"As far as livestock, worms are pretty low maintenance, we might have to give them a drink every now and again and a little bit of fresh poo — if we hit a really hot dry spell, we'll put a tarp on to hold the moisture."

A group of people in a paddock
More than 60 people attended the soil health workshop.(Supplied: Burnett Mary Regional Group for Natural Resources)

Growing beef and soil carbon

Karen Jarling and her husband Warren McEwan set up CGL beef at Glastonbury near Gympie in 2017, to market "clean, green and local" meat, and in four short years they have demonstrated big improvements can be made at little cost.

The couple hosted more than 60 people at a soil health workshop, demonstrating how they regenerate their land and sell pasture-raised beef and, at cooler times of the year, poultry meat direct to customers.

Two plugs of soil in trays.
Soil samples show CGL Beef's efforts are working.(Supplied: CGL Beef)

"It's phenomenal, we had soil tests done in May, and we've grown our soil carbon by 0.45 per cent, which sounds tiny, but that means we're holding approximately an extra 70,000 litres of water per hectare in the soil," Ms Jarling said.

"Given that we've done that in the driest three consecutive years in the last 37 years, according to our neighbour's records, we're pretty impressed because we're not qualified experts."

Years of drought have forced more Australian farmers to adopt more sustainable land management practices.

The latest ABARES survey of more than 2,500 farms in the grazing, broadacre, dairy and horticulture industries found 84 per cent of farmers retained stubble (the cut stalks after grain is harvested) and almost 70 per cent had reduced reliance on pesticides and optimised fertiliser use.

A man talking to a group in a paddock.
Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee's Brad Wedlock says slowing the movement of water over the paddock reduces erosion. (Supplied: Burnett Mary Regional Group for Natural Resource Management)

Flow of water is slowed, reducing erosion 

The Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee has been helping Karen Jarling, work towards a sustainable and productive catchment.

Project officer Brad Wedlock showed off 'porous check dams', a cost-effective way to stop gully erosion and slow the flow of water in seasonal creeks and smaller catchments.

A series of piles of sticks are placed perpendicular to the flow, sometimes wrapped in old chicken mesh or netting and held in place with posts or star pickets.

"It's still porous, so allows the water through but by slowing it down the sediment drops out and builds up the [creek] bed which was previously eroding," Mr Wedlock said.

Sticks behind some posts in a dry watercourse.
A pile of sticks held in place is designed to slow the flow of water.(Supplied: Burnett Mary Regional Group for Natural Resource Management)

"You could save to eight to 10 tonnes of fine sediment, which doesn't go into the river, it doesn't go into the Great Barrier Reef and you've got the the best sediment for growing grass, all for a couple of hundred bucks — and time."

The family used electric fencing to move livestock across the land, using rotational grazing as a tool to improve soil health.

"In some areas, they use multi-species cover cropping, planted with a minimum tillage planter, with oats, brassicas, radish and vetch in winter, biodynamic preparations, worm juice and compost to help speed up the improvement process," Ann McKenzie from the Burnett Mary Regional Group said.

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Preparing for the next drought

A family wearing hats under a hot blue sky, standing in long grass on their beef property.
Ms Jarling and Mr McEwan run CGL beef, with sons Jonte and Hamish.(ABC: Jennifer Nichols)

ABARES's 'Natural Resource Management and Drought resilience survey of farm practices' found 68 per cent of farmers had learnt to destock early in low rainfall periods, 58 per cent had a source of off-farm income and 37 per cent had diversified over the last three years to increase their resilience to drought.

ABARES director of farm analysis, Dale Ashton said it was 'particularly pleasing' to compare the results to the last survey they did ten years ago.

"We're seeing quite significant changes," Mr Ashton said.

"People have learned from the run of droughts we've had, to be more prepared — financially by having an off-farm income or liquid assets that they can call on — but also preparing their land so it doesn't get as harmed by drought," Mr Ashton said.

Posted 13 Nov 202113 Nov 2021Sat 13 Nov 2021 at 9:38pmShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp


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