The Brandons use mineral supplements in the sheep’s food, including copper, salt, sulphur, zinc, seaweed meal, basalt rock dust, diatomaceous earth, dolomite, cod liver oil and molasses, to be distributed across the farm in sheep manure, which over time works to address any micro-nutrient deficiencies in the soil. D132916.

The Brandons use mineral supplements in the sheep’s food, including copper, salt, sulphur, zinc, seaweed meal, basalt rock dust, diatomaceous earth, dolomite, cod liver oil and molasses, to be distributed across the farm in sheep manure, which over time works to address any micro-nutrient deficiencies in the soil. D132916.

SESL Australia Senior Soil Scientist Declan McDonald discusses the challenges and opportunities of improving soil health at the Brandon farm. D112916.

SESL Australia Senior Soil Scientist Declan McDonald discusses the challenges and opportunities of improving soil health at the Brandon farm. D112916.

The Brandons have quickly grown their mob of milking sheep since moving to Moyarra five years ago and have been working on improving soil health, particularly in reducing phosphorous and hydrogen levels by applying lime and compost as affordable. However, the improvement program will have to be delayed as the floodwaters from Foster Creek washed away the culvert, leaving just a thin slab of concrete. D122916.

The Brandons have quickly grown their mob of milking sheep since moving to Moyarra five years ago and have been working on improving soil health, particularly in reducing phosphorous and hydrogen levels by applying lime and compost as affordable. However, the improvement program will have to be delayed as the floodwaters from Foster Creek washed away the culvert, leaving just a thin slab of concrete. D122916.

Burke Brandon, farmer and chief cheese maker at Prom Country Cheese, inspects a sod of soil from his farm at the Healthy Soils Field Day on Friday morning. The farm is part of a study with the Bass Coast Landcare Network and the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority. D102916.

Burke Brandon, farmer and chief cheese maker at Prom Country Cheese, inspects a sod of soil from his farm at the Healthy Soils Field Day on Friday morning. The farm is part of a study with the Bass Coast Landcare Network and the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority. D102916.

SOILS may well be the new fad of high-end restaurants thanks to scientist chefs like Blumenthal where plates can reach dizzying heights of theatre and cost.
It’s a world away from little Moyarra.
However, high-end soil is not much of a stretch for sheep cheese producers Burke and Bronwyn Brandon at Moyarra.
The Brandons have been producing award-winning gourmet cheeses at their Moyarra property for a few years, having bought the property five years ago and starting with 30 milkers.
On Friday, the Brandons showed interested farmers how their attention to detail extended beyond the exceptional care of their milking mob, even beyond the careful rotation of paddocks, but right down to the very basis of soil.
They opened the farm gates for a group of 20 or so farmers to walk through, dig up sods of soils, ask questions and finally, taste the fruits of the Brandons’ labour.
The Brandons’ farm was part of the Healthy Soils Field Day with Bass Coast Landcare Network and the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority.
The farm was literally under the microscope.
The farm had previously been used for beef and dairy and the soil held water and was severely pugged.
The Brandons worked towards improving soil biology, to move beyond regular fertiliser use, getting to the bottom of poor growth.
Inputs have been moderate to low with applications of lime (May 2015 and April 2016), compost and manure.
The application of pig manure and lime has reduced the high phosphorous levels, but according to the study and experts, there’s been some improvement over the past two years.
There are also high levels of hydrogen, reducing the available space in the soil for more desirable nutrients such as calcium and potassium.
The Brandons aim to grow their sheep cheese business and want to achieve this through organic principles.
They also have a strong focus on animal welfare, recognising that healthy sheep deliver maximum production.
They also understand that healthy soil underpins the economic success of the business, as it relies on producing sufficient quantities of nutritious pasture for optimal milk and cheese production.
The Healthy Soils program identified two clear options to achieve their goals – one through premium treatment, and the other a more budget conscious approach over a longer period of time.
“Farmers have been looking after what’s growing above the ground for years, but the primary asset on the farm is its soil,” Senior Soil Scientist Declan McDonald said.
“There’s a lot more to farming and good management than achieving a magic pH number.
“What we’re looking at is not to waste money on fertilisers, when we can extend the growing season, improve root penetration and handle droughts and the wet better by improving the soil.
“We’ve seen that propped up by use of fertilisers, soils are in a gradual downward spiral in terms of soil health.”
For more information about the Moyarra study property and the Healthy Soils program, contact the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority or the Bass Coast Landcare Network.
Further Soil Health Field Days are planned in the future.