Livestock farming plays a crucial role in the Australian agricultural sector, contributing significantly to the country’s economy. However, managing the nutrient requirements in livestock farming can be challenging due to the potential for nutrient loss, particularly in pasture-based systems. Summarised below are tips for developing a nutrient management plan that aims to improve pastures, maximise any fertilizer efficiencies, and utilise no-till farming practices, thus, promoting sustainable livestock farming.

  1. Conduct a Soil Test:

Before developing a nutrient management plan, it is crucial to understand the nutrient status of the soil. A comprehensive soil test will provide information about the soil’s pH, organic matter content, and nutrient levels. Understanding the soil’s characteristics allows farmers to determine the specific nutrient requirements of their pastures and make informed decisions on fertilizer application.

2. Adjust pH Levels:

Soil pH is a fundamental factor that affects nutrient availability to plants. Most pastures in Australia perform best when the pH is within the ideal range of 5.5 to 7. Lime or other soil amendments can be applied to optimize pH levels, allowing for better nutrient uptake. *Always consult your agronomist on what best suits your program.

3. Balance Fertilizer Application:

Depending on your specific program, applying fertilizers in a balanced manner to improve pasture quality and optimize nutrient use efficiency is important. Based on the soil test results, identify the specific nutrient deficiencies and apply fertilizers accordingly. Utilizing slow-release or controlled-release fertilizers can be advantageous as they provide nutrients to plants over an extended period, reducing nutrient losses through leaching or volatilization.

4. Pasture Renovation and Improvement:

Incorporating legume species such as clovers and lucerne into pastures can enhance nitrogen fixation, improving soil fertility and reducing the reliance on synthetic fertilizers. These legume species also provide high-quality forage for livestock, resulting in improved animal performance and reduced feed costs.

5. Utilising No-Till Practices:

No-till farming, also known as zero-tillage or direct drilling, is the conservation agricultural practice involving minimal soil disturbance, leaving crop residues on the surface, and sowing seeds directly into undisturbed soil, ensuring better soil health and moisture retention. Implementing no-till practices and equipment can bring numerous benefits to pasture-based livestock systems. No-till farming reduces soil erosion, retains moisture, and improves soil structure and organic matter content. These practices not only promote soil health but also enhance nutrient availability and nutrient cycling within the soil-plant system.

In utilising no-till practices, farmers should also consider crop rotations and diversification to help break disease and pest cycles while improving soil fertility. This can involve brassicas or other deep-rooted crops to improve soil structure, weed management, and nutrient cycling. No-till practices have shown promising benefits when it comes to nitrogen management. The crop residues left on the surface help improve soil organic matter content and promote nutrient cycling. This, in turn, enhances nitrogen availability for subsequent crops.

Among the essential nutrients, nitrogen holds a significant place due to its essential role in plant growth and development, but its proper management is essential to prevent environmental degradation. No-till practices have emerged as an effective tool in balancing nutrient management, maximizing nitrogen use efficiency, and reducing its environmental impacts.

Understanding the relationship between nitrogen and no-till practices can help optimise crop yields while minimising environmental impacts.  Nitrogen is crucial for various biological processes, including protein synthesis, photosynthesis, and energy transfer within plants. Crop production heavily relies on nitrogen input, either naturally through soil organic matter or externally through fertilizers. Adequate nitrogen levels can enhance plant health, improve crop quality, and potentially increase yields.

According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES, 2021), Nitrogen is the most commonly used fertilizer in Australian agriculture. In 2019-2020, around 1.014 million tonnes of nitrogen were applied as fertilizers across different agricultural sectors, including pastures. This data highlights the significant reliance on nitrogen fertilizers to support pasture productivity and overall agricultural production in Australia.

However, improper nitrogen management can lead to environmental issues such as soil acidification, eutrophication of waterways, and greenhouse gas emissions. It is, therefore, crucial to strike a balance between nitrogen input and its efficient use in your program. Furthermore, research suggests that no-till farming practices reduce soil erosion and increase water infiltration, which can prevent nitrogen losses through leaching or runoff. This characteristic is particularly valuable in regions where water scarcity is a concern.

A report by Armstrong et al. (2018) estimated that legume-based pastures contribute approximately 325,000 tonnes of nitrogen annually to Australian pasture systems through biological nitrogen fixation. This natural nitrogen supplementation plays a crucial role in maintaining soil fertility and reducing the reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertilizers.

Below are two summaries of case study findings on Nitrogen;

Case study 1: The effect of nitrogen fertilization on pasture productivity in South Australia

A study conducted by Scott et al. (2008) in South Australia examined the impact of nitrogen fertilization on pasture productivity. The research found that the application of nitrogen fertilizers to pasture significantly increased dry matter production. The study also demonstrated that pasture growth responses to nitrogen fertilization varied depending on the type of pasture species and its age. This case study signifies the effectiveness of nitrogen as a crucial element in enhancing pasture productivity in Australian agriculture.

Case study 2: Natural nitrogen fixation in legume-based pastures in New South Wales

An investigation conducted by Baldock et al. (2012) in New South Wales analysed the role of natural nitrogen fixation in legume-based pastures. The study found that legumes, such as clover and lucerne, can fix atmospheric nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. This process enables legume-based pastures to obtain nitrogen without the need for external nitrogen fertilization. The research indicated that pastures with a higher proportion of legumes had increased nitrogen levels and consequently higher productivity.

Developing a nutrient management plan is crucial for sustaining livestock farming in Australia. Maximizing fertilizer efficiencies, improving pastures through balanced fertilizer application, utilising no-till farming practices, and incorporating legume species all form vital components of a sustainable nutrient management plan for livestock farming. By regularly monitoring and adjusting nutrient management practices, Australian livestock farmers can hopefully optimise pasture quality, improve livestock performance, and promote sustainable agricultural practices that support both environmental conservation and profitability.



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  3. Baldock J, Peoples M, Grace P (2012) Natural Nitrogen Fixation by Legume-Based Pastures in New South Wales. NSW Department of Primary Industries Technical Bulletin 32.
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  9. Singh, D., Dalal, R. C., Orange, D. N., Wang, W. J., Henry, B. K., & Kumar, L. (2015). Organic and inorganic carbon in surface soils of cropping systems, pastures, forests and woodlands in eastern Australia. Soil Research, 53(5), 530-545.
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  11. Pasture species | Agriculture and Food


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