Home' Grower : November 2010 Contents The South Australian Grower -- November 2010
Measuring microbes for soil health check
By ANGELA LUSH
WHILE soil tests are a
well established tool
used to get a good
picture of a soil's properties,
commercial soil health test-
ing is a relatively new ser vice.
Soil health tests measure
the biological activity in soil,
compared with tests that are
commonly used to measure
the soil's physical and chem-
Biological activity is a well-
known indicator of soil
health, but it has been diffi-
cult to measure.
Microbes are vital for the
soil to function effectively as
they break down organic
matter to release nutrients
for plant use, assist soil stabil-
ity and can also help to sup-
With soil health tests now
South Australian Research
and Development Institute's
Dr Belinda Rawnsley has
been investigating their use
to assess soil health in
Barossa Valley vineyards.
Dr Rawnsley is the inaugu-
ral recipient of the Geoff
Innovation Award, an initia-
tive of the Barossa
Viticulture Technical Group.
The award stipend offers
the participant an opportuni-
ty to explore an innovative
viticultural idea through
study, travel or a project that
can deliver benefits to the
Barossa wine sector.
"Commercial ser vices
offering soil health testing
are relatively new, and grape-
growers are unsure what the
tests measure and how they
can use the results," Dr
"Total active microbial bio-
mass is the total amount of
active microbes in the soil.
These microbes are responsi-
ble for decomposing plant
residues and organic matter
to release plant-available
Soil health is measured
using a range of microbial
activity measures including
the total active microbial
biomass (TAMB, mainly
fungi:bacteria ratio (FBR),
protozoa and free-living
responds quickly to changes
in soil management, so it is a
good indicator of soil health.
"I looked at microbial bio-
mass at four sites in the
Barossa Valley at different
times of the year, and under
different management prac-
While microbial activity
changed throughout the
growing season, overall the
vineyard sites showed low
microbial activity" she said.
"This was irrespective of cur-
rent soil management prac-
Sites were either managed
under conventional cultiva-
tion, under vine mulch
applied five years ago, with
permanent sward or biody-
namic (Bio500 applied in
spring and autumn).
Microbial activity will vary
with environmental condi-
tions, soil type and manage-
ment, but commercial testing
ser vices offer a guide to the
levels of microbial biomass
that coincide with healthy
soil. These guides provide an
idea of soil performance in
regard to microbial activity.
If activity is low, adding bio-
logical inputs would be rec-
ommended to stimulate
activity to improve the soil.
Cover crops or mulch can
also increase soil microbe lev-
els by increasing soil organic
carbon," Dr Rawnsley said.
Details: Dr Belinda Rawnsley
With an Australian School Based Apprenticeship
you can finish SACE, have paid work, and gain a
nationally recognised qualification. The
Apprenticeship also counts towards your SACE,
which means less school subjects to be done.
River Murray Training (R-M-T) supports School
Based Apprenticeships with flexible learning
options that fit around your school and work
obligations. R-M-T supports the following
Apprenticeships at Certificate III:
• Business /Business administration /
• Retail services
• Agriculture / Production horticulture /
• Public service
Employers are increasingly seeing the benefits of
seeking out "good recruits" through School Based
Apprenticeships. Employers receive generous
incentives; and the apprentice's tuition is paid for
by the Government.
How? Enroll in a school based traineeship such as a Certificate
III in Agriculture. You spend one day a week (sometimes more)
working on a farm and four days a week at school.
Who does it benefit? Students who intend to work on a farm or
an agricultural industry on leaving school.
What year levels? Usually years 11 and 12
How will it affect my SACE (South Australian Certificate of
Education) If you enroll in a Certificate III in Agriculture, which is
a VET course, you will receive credit points that go towards your
SACE for all units of the course that you complete. A Certificate
III in Agriculture can contribute 180 points towards your SACE! To
achieve your SACE you only require 200 credit points.
To successfully complete your SACE you will still need to complete
your PLP (Personal Learning Plan) in Year 10, Literacy and
Numeracy units in Year 11 and the Research Project in Year 12.
The Research Project can be focused on Agriculture if you can find
a teacher to assist you.
Where will it lead me? Employment on Wheat, Sheep and
Beef properties, Dairy Farms, Piggeries, and in Agricultural
People to contact? Talk to the SACE Coordinator or the Trade
School Broker at your school; Registered Training Organisations
or your Australian Apprenticeship Centre.
You could also visit the SACE web site and navigate to VET,
where you can find out more about VET and the new SACE.
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