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Message to pastoralists: Making soil 'sexy' again can help prevent erosion

Katrina Beavan, Monday September 11, 2017 - 13:42 EST
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Soil specialist Colin Stanton demonstrates where the ponding bank will go at the workshop. - ABC

An erosion specialist in Central Australia is working to put soil in the spotlight, saying it is just as important as weed, fire and feral animal management.

Having worked in the industry for many years, Colin Stanton spoke about the issue at a workshop on Undoolya Station, for the Central Land Management Association.

Mr Stanton said after a quiet few years, the issue of soil management was experiencing a resurgence, and for good reason.

"It did have its little lapse, now it's coming up again," said Mr Stanton.

"It's back in fashion, we've got to make it sexy, don't treat your soils like dirt, because it's the very thing we all live off."

Making the most of rain

He said preparing soil correctly and treating it properly means the country is better equipped to make the most of any rain that falls.

"It's good to get country ready for rain, once you disturb the soil, when we do get rain then we've got soaking sponges all across the country here.

"So that we capture that rain, [and] it'll penetrate a lot deeper rather than it running off."

Mr Stanton told the Northern Territory Country hour that there a number of measures pastoralists can do to make the most out of whatever rain they get.

"Paddock spelling, fencing of areas, a lot of soil erosion stuff, simple fencing is a good starter, but when you do see soil erosion happening, you've got to do something.

"You just can't say well 'that's too deep, that's too wide, I'm not going to spend any money on that' you have to do at least something, even if it's just a diversion bank up the top, or fencing."

He said even if the problems were from previous land holders, that was no reason not to deal with the issue.

"Today's roads are tomorrow's creeks if you don't do it properly."

Mr Stanton also recommended land holders not go out and check their bores after rain, despite how tempting it may be.

"The moment you go out and rut your country, you've got gully formation happening, and you don't want that."

Fifty shades of soil

According to Mr Stanton the colour of soil reveals a lot about issues with the land.

He said he lived by a '50 shades of chocolate' rule, with different shades indicating different problems.

"When you see different types of soil, on areas where it wasn't there before, that rings alarm bells.

"If you see different shades of chocolate in any given area, that chocolate shouldn't be there, you should go and have a check, go see why you've got white chocolate on brown.

"You [might] find that the creek has burst its bank because you've graded a road through there or something.

Ponding banks key

The two-day event, attended by pastoralists and rangers, involved learning how to prevent erosion, as well as getting on the back of the grader to create ponding banks.

"We're putting water out of gullies that have been caused through here, back onto the country to give it a drink," Mr Stanton said.

Josephine Grant, with the Anmatyerr Rangers in Ti Tree, said it was a hands-on experience.

"For the ponding bank you have to measure the distance to make half a smiley face then rip the ground [up]."

She said the ponding banks are used to direct water to certain areas, usually unproductive country, and make the soil conditions better so vegetation can be established.

"Cattle pads can turn into erosion and big gullies, so [the ponding bank] stops the water running off and making big gullies," she said.


© ABC 2017

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