Home' Grower : October 2009 Contents Soil management
The South Australian Grower -- October 2009
Soil, plant tests make
best use of compost
By KATIE WEBSTER
SOIL management is almost
always made easier with the
addition of organic matter.
Compost can be used to save water,
improve soil structure and create better
conditions for plant growth.
Growers even report unexpected
benefits, such as easier tillage with
reduced diesel use and more even
maturation of the crop, requiring fewer
har vest passes with associated labour
and fuel savings.
As with all soil amendments, applying
compost costs money, so it is important
to get the best possible value from any
investment. Soil and plant tissue tests
can be used to decide which parts of a
farm will benefit most from compost
Key measures include:
Soil organic matter
Soils with organic matter less than
3.5 per cent for clays, and 2.5pc for
lighter soils are likely to benefit from
the addition of compost. Soils with
more organic matter can support a
greater diversity and number of soil
organisms that can assist in nutrient
turnover and building of soil structure.
Soil microbes create the 'glue' that
sticks soil particles together, creating
the variety of soil crumbs and pore
spaces that make up good structure.
Low cation exchange capacity
Sandy soils and soils with low cation
exchange capacity (less than
10meq/100g) have fewer sites on the
soil particle surface where nutrients can
become loosely bound, ready and
waiting to move into the soil solution
for uptake by plants.
As compost breaks down, it forms
humus, which can loosely bind
nutrients and gradually build up the
capacity of the soil to store and release
nutrients for plant growth.
Imbalance between plant and soil
If a soil test shows adequate levels of
nutrients such as potassium and trace
elements but the tissue test is showing
deficiency, then the soil is capable of
storing adequate nutrient reser ves but
is unable to release them to the plant.
Adding organic matter encourages
greater activity of soil microbes, which
are able to change the environment
immediately around themselves -
encouraging nutrient release and
availability. Compost is a good source
of 'food', because it has been stabilised
and pasteurised, but still contains
enough bulk organic matter to feed and
encourage endemic soil microbes to
multiply and do their work in the soil.
In irrigated crops, it is normal for
salinity to build up during the
irrigation season when water inputs
may carry a salt load, and evaporation
concentrates salts in the upper soil.
Levels above 0.15ds/m may begin to
Usually, this is managed with some
good rainfall or a leaching irrigation to
flush salts through.
However, the efficiency of leaching
can be impaired when the soil has poor
One of the most common effects
where compost is used is improved
water infiltration. Better infiltration
ensures water is able to move into the
soil and percolate through it, carrying
salts away, rather than pooling on the
surface, evaporating, or, running off
before it can do its job.
Details: Compost for Soils, Katie Webster 08
8339 8628, firstname.lastname@example.org
Compost can be used to save water, improve soil structure and create better conditions for plant
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