Reversing Soil Health Decline
Brett and Jarryd Dolling, with Production Manager Shane Ebert have focused their onion production on the quality sector of their market and are recognised as a leading Australian supplier of quality onions. Over the past decade Dolling Produce have progressively adopted Regenerative Farming methods and Integrated Pest Management using LawrieCo products. These new management methods are reaping productivity rewards beyond expectations.
“We are happy when a consumer wants to pick up our label. There is no doubt that since we have adopted Regenerative Agriculture methods most of our onion production is now in the top grade bin. Consistency is a lot better; we have very low numbers of discard onions in our packing shed. Our production tonnes are up, and what we can sell as premium product is much higher."
I have given our production team free scope to build on early success in methods and choosing inputs to build on our quality onion product. We have increasingly adopted the Biological Fertilisers and carbon building products provided by LawrieCo, and they are working well for us. I encourage Production Manager Shane Ebert to stick with these winning solutions. You cannot realistically turn tired soils around in a year or two... it is important to stick with a good thing. Some, many, of our soils were tired, from years of onion crops and the soil produced inconsistent crops."
“Onions are traditionally a hard crop to grow, given the time from seeding to maturity. A lot can go wrong in that time and does go wrong. This includes simple choices of seed. From the consistency of good crops and pack-out rate improvement, we have seen our business progressively improve over the past 10 years. We will not be going back to the conventional systems that were once considered the norm."
“There are a lot of positives in our business, that without Regenerative Practices
we would not be enjoying.”
“In the past only the best sections of the farm had onion crop uniformity.
Regenerative Farming technology has delivered consistent healthy onion crops and lifted productivity across the entire paddock.”
Virgin soils in the region show high fertility, however being light sand texture, they are described as ‘fragile’. “It is well known that the first onion crop on a ‘new or virgin’ paddock is expected to be good. The light sandy soils in South East of South Australia, present some challenges to keep water and nutrition up to the crop. To address this, the Dolling's experimented for a few years with compost, together with increasing synthetic fertiliser applications. For the past 6 years Dolling's Produce have applied Bio-Fertilisers from LawrieCo, in conjunction with applying least toxic pest management. This has proven to be effective in improving our crop productivity and our soil health. Our system is not Organic, or Conventional, but a combination of the best of both. We are achieving much higher utilisation of the soil's natural fertility, getting the most from our fertiliser applications and the investment we have made in building carbon. We attribute the significant improvement we are seeing to the humus base we have created, and the microbial additions that are now applied with all solid and liquid bio fertilisers, minerals, and nutrition that we apply. The combination of improvement in plant and soil health, is a key contributor, to the effectiveness of our Integrated Plant Management. We are addressing the physical, chemical and biological factors of the soils and plants, and it is adding value through yield and consistency to our production system.
Soil testing on a rotational basis around the enterprise has revealed that soil fertility is now improving following the onion crop rotation. Shane comments “Prior to adopting some of the LawrieCo suggested applications and changes to our systems, our soil condition was declining in fertility and we were not getting consistency of produce. What we see now is not only improved yield and quality of onions produced, but we are improving our soils as we go. This is a huge step forward as we now see the soil as an important element of overall farm profit. We are growing more produce from the same land. Onion roots are larger, healthier, and access nutrients and water, all the way through the growing season to crop maturity. Our quality assurance program tracks our onion product with visually seen, in improved onion quality. It is pleasing to know that we can grow a crop of good onions, and the soil is better for it."
A somewhat unexpected, but appreciated outcome, has been the transition to eliminate some of the past used toxic chemical inputs. This is being enjoyed by Shane and his field staff who manage the chemical spray and fertiliser applications. “Some of the chemicals we relied on in the past did not always work, were expensive and vicious on anything living above or below the ground. We have now removed all chemical insecticides. Employees enjoy spraying biological nutrition products and less toxic inputs. There is a positive impact on human and soil biology, with less chemicals in our workplace.”
Jarryd Dolling is increasingly involved in management aspects of Dolling Produce, and was recently appointed as a Board member of industry peak body, Onions Australia.
Jarryd comments, “It is rewarding seeing the measurable progress that we have made in adapting our commercial onion business to adopt modern regenerative practice. This has resulted in imrpoved onion nutritional quality, consistency and shelf life for discerning onion purchasers, while restoring a key asset in our business; the soil. The increase in soil biology and carbon is visually obvious, with another benefit, often forgotten - lesss erosion risk."
Crop rotation bio-fumigation with Brassica species has also contributed to restoration. Now good crops grow on paddocks that used to be regarded “worn out” for onion production. “It puts a spring in your step to be building your soils' health and fertility. Our experience demonstrates chemical farming methods, are not real solutions in our business. Now we address problem causes, from the soil up rather than putting band aids on them. We have had to make some changes in plant and equipment to adapt to our new way of farming, but the rewards far outweigh and financially justify the investment." Jarryd sees a bright future for Onion Industry adopting Regenerative Management.
Adrian Lawrie and Olivia Grivell of LawrieCo, have enjoyed working with Shane and the Dolling Produce team over 6 years, supporting their transition and integration of inputs that include minerals, seleted conventional fertilisers applied with various humus based fertilisers which are inoculated with beneficial bacteria and fungi.
LawrieCo liquid bio feretilisers and bio stimulants are manufactured from fermented microbial base providing not only nutrients phosphorus, calcium etc, but include beneficial microbe derived protein, vitamins and enzymes. LawrieCo products are now adopted in all sectors of commercial agriculture. A common inclusion in their extensive crop nutrition range are products formulated including microbial and concentrated humus, an extract from lignite brown coal.
Peter Davidson. area manager with LawrieCo, regularly liaises with Shane and Jarryd on crop development, monitoring and coordinates the product delivery of inputs.
With widespread client examples across Australia, the LawrieCo team have now established a National Carbon Offset Program with their growers who are sequestering atmospheric CO2 to Soil Organic Carbon. Clients have the opportunity to apply for additional income from building healthy high carbon soil. LawrieCo are drivers of this development for the onion industry. The soil stewardship practices at Dolling Produce allows them the opportunity for additional income, through trading soil carbon improvement, as commercial carbon credits. If you're interested in also being involved in this program please get in touch with your local Area Manager.