A Western Australian grazing family has doubled their carrying capacity and tripled soil carbon levels by switching to a biological soil treatment.
The program over the last eight years on the Thexton’s Northcliffe property has resulted in reduced soil acidity and compaction, and increased soil aeration, boosting pasture growth and animal productivity.
Colin, Kerry, Anthony and Kate Sexton have cut fertiliser costs by two-thirds, done away with insecticide applications, and achieved year round ground cover and increased stocking rates.
Colin puts the productivity increase down to the use of TM Agricultural, an organic soil activation product produced by Best Environmental Technologies.
By paying close attention to root growth and biological activity, Mr Thexton has been able to turn off steers six to eight weeks earlier than a conventional system under high rates of chemical fertilisers.
In May, Colin and Kerry entered three pens of Angus steers, aged 15-16 months, in the 300-420kg carcase weight, export pasture fed class, and a single pen in the 260-340kg pasture fed trade class at the Beef Australia 2018 carcase competition.
From 44 teams, the couple’s heavier teams placed first, sixth and eighth, and the lighter team 12th.
The winning team had an average carcase weight of 325kg, a consistent rump fat of 10mm, lean meat yield up to 61.61 per cent, and a MSA Index up to 61.54.
The steers were by Lawson Angus sires and out of commercial cows – bulls are selected on BREEDPLAN estimated breeding values for carcase traits, including eye muscle area and intramuscular fat, calving ease and doing ability.
As first time competition entrants, the couple wanted to benchmark their genetics and the finishing program based on TM Agricultural.
They run 150 breeders on160ha comprising black sandy soils in a 1000-1200mm rainfall zone at Northcliffe, in the lower south west of Western Australia.
Colin discovered TM Agricultural eight years ago after purchasing a run down 40ha block.
He was keen to move away from high rates of chemical fertiliser and insecticide applications, and was searching for an alternative when Dean and Glen Ryan, of Pemberton, introduced him to TM.
“The block was so run down it supported only 17 cows and calves on hay for six months of the year,’’ Mr Thexton said.
Soil testing revealed a pH of just 3.6 (in calcium chloride).
“I needed to raise the pH and reduce a noticeable hard pan about three-quarters of an inch under the ground running right through the country,’’ Mr Thexton said.
“The pasture consisted of sorrel, dock, the odd clover plant and a little ryegrass.
“I didn’t want to rip the pasture up as I wouldn’t be able to run cattle.
“We wanted to get the existing grasses to thrive by raising the soil pH, and initially put on 12 tonnes or 100kg/ha of super, copper and zinc.’’
Mr Thexton decided to trial the TM Agricultural at three rates on the paddock – 750mls/ha, 500mls/ha and the recommended rate of 250mls/ha.
He observed the pasture and was surprised at the result.
“We had 30 dry cattle on the block and in the area where the TM was applied at three times the rate (750mls/ha), they had mowed the pasture down to lawn level, including the weeds,’’ he said.
“The second indication was all the acidic loving weeds were changing colour and dying back.
“Soil tests revealed the pH had jumped from 3.6 to 7.0 and the Brix (plant sugar content) levels had doubled, there were worms occurring, the root zone had increased and the bacterial flagellation on the clover was outstanding, even at that early stage.
“Since then over the eight years, the waterlogged areas have improved dramatically.
“The root zone has gone from three-quarter of an inch below the ground to eight to 12 inches.
“There is no doubt with the advent of TM on the pasture, the cattle are healthier and more feed efficient, stocking rates have doubled and there is no need to spray for red legged earth mite.’’
Colin uses a 1000 litre tank fitted with a boomless jet to apply the TM during rainfall at germination and in-crop on the ryegrass, clover and kikyu pasture.
His fertiliser costs have reduced by two-thirds and insecticides have been removed from the system.
Colin describes his own management philosophy as “biological’’ and believes TM is a great solution for improving the soil health.
He said chiller feedback on cattle grazed on TM treated pastures had resulted in fat colour of zero and meat colour 1b combined with a high carcase yield.
He has observed consistent year-round dung beetle activity and increased soil biology.
Mr Thexton was shocked to receive a soil analysis in 2016 revealing soil carbon had skyrocketed to 7.1 per cent.
A second opinion resulted in a level of 6.9 per cent – comparable paddocks around the Northcliffe/Pemberton district were 2.4 per cent carbon.
He said regional growers of avocado and potato crops seeking biologically sustainable systems had also begun using TM Agricultural.