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Tuning soil and boosting performance – a Canterbury Tale

Soil performance secrets from a North

Canterbury farm

Stonyhurst's success hinges on a simple yet profound strategy: the healthier the soil, the healthier the crops and livestock. With a keen eye on efficient nutrient application and modern agronomy practices, the Douglas-Cliffords are pioneering a sustainable farming model built for the long haul.

Twenty thousand stock units, including ewe hoggets, wether lambs, stud breeding rams, a 450-strong herd of cows, and a deer operation call Stonyhurst Station home. A place where the health of their animals starts with the plants they eat and the soil that sustains them. Notably, the farm finishes all livestock on a grass-based system, prioritising legumes for nitrogen-fixing and maintaining optimal pH levels.

The trick is to ensure it’s available for our plants by maintaining that perfect pH." Charles Douglas-Clifford

Tips for tuning in your soil to reap the benefits

Find your optimal pH

The availability of essential nutrients like phosphorus and sulphur, nitrogen, potassium, calcium, and magnesium depends on the soil pH. A neutral pH often ensures a well-balanced uptake of these nutrients, promoting healthier plant growth.

For the D-C’s, it's about unlocking what’s already there. "Our Phosphorus levels aren’t high, but it's not about adding more and more P. The trick is to ensure it’s available for our plants by maintaining that perfect pH."

Phosphorus (P) is vital for root development, energy transfer, and flower/fruit production. In acidic soils (low pH), P tends to become less available to plants, leading to nutrient deficiencies and poor plant growth. Increasing the soil pH can improve phosphorus availability.

Activate your soil biology

Soil organisms, such as beneficial bacteria and fungi, play a crucial role in nutrient cycling and breakdown of organic matter. These microorganisms generally function optimally in neutral pH conditions. Extreme pH levels can disrupt the balance of the soil microbiome and reduce biological activity. Create a hospitable environment for these beneficial soil organisms to thrive, and they’ll support plant health.

The best way to move lime throughout the soil profile and to have an effect at depth is to have CaCO3 moved by soil biology. This is best done with ultra-fine lime. The finer the particle, the better the chance of the lime making its way into the soil.

Top up what your soil is missing

The number of earthworms, the structure of the soil and how it drains are good indicators of soil health. Take regular soil tests to determine your soil’s pH levels and what nutrients are missing. Then take steps to improve the health of your soil, the foundation to farming success.

Stonyhurst soil is deficient in Sulphur, so they doubled up on S, combining it with lime in a micronised, pelletised format to get the legumes really producing. That set them up for the spring – a crucial time when they do 50% of their livestock growing. The quality of feed then dictates how successful their year will be.

Sulphur is essential for protein synthesis and plays a role in enzyme activity, but sulphur availability decreases in acidic soils, making it harder for plants to access this vital nutrient. Raising the soil pH enhances its availability for plants.

Optimise Fine Lime Sulphur

Following in the footsteps of his father and uncle, Charles uses Optimise Lime-based fertilisers to maintain soil health and enhance nutrient availability. They’ve tuned in their soil. How about you?

Each pellets contains CaCO3 and stable micronised Elemental Sulphur (Carbonate 72%, Ca 28.8%, S 19.6%)

More Optimise Field Notes

Tuning soil and boosting performance – a Canterbury Tale
Elements of change
How soil tests can get you the results you’re looking for

14-16 February,Waimumu, Gore