The National Soils Advocate visits North Queensland properties to learn more about soils health and issues in the region

The TNQ Drought Hub and Hub Node, NQ Dry Tropics recently hosted the National Soils Advocate, the Honourable Penelope Wensley AC.

Ms Wensley spent two days to visiting several soils restoration and rehabilitation sites around the Burdekin region before travelling onto McKinlay, to launch Hub Node Southern Gulf NRM and James Cook University’s (JCU) Resilient Soils and Landscapes Project.

Ms Wensley described the two days as excellent visits to diverse farm and soils research sites and thanked the team and landholders for sharing their extensive knowledge on gully remediation, landscape rehydration and improving soils health.

NQ Dry Tropics CEO, Dr Scott Crawford, said the visit was an opportunity to showcase some of the many ways the organisation is working to improve soil health in the Dry Tropics of North Queensland.

“Healthy soil grows better pastures, which helps make the most of often limited rainfall in our region,” Dr Crawford said. “Keeping soil on the land supports primary industries that help drive regional prosperity, while also minimising runoff to the Reef.

On the first day, the group visited Paynes Lagoon Station north of Charters Towers where the landholder, NQ Dry Tropics and Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) had partnered on a gully rehabilitation project and saw how the catchment area had recovered through reshaping the soil and reseeding of the area.

The group then travelled to Spyglass Research Station, operated by DAF, where they visited an alluvial gully remediation project which focuses on restoring the health and function of the landscape through various remediation measures.

The project has several undergraduate and post-graduate students working on it to gain first-hand experience collecting and translating data into knowledge for improved land management. Several of these students attended the site visit so they could share their work with Penelope.

Project lead and JCU lecturer Dr Jack Koci said “The students have commented that Penelope really helped them to see the value of their work and provided motivation for them to continue working in this space.”

The day ended at JCU’s Fletcherview Research Station where the group visited the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) SuperSite project where continuous environmental monitoring sensors are being used to measure the exchange of water, carbon and energy between the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface. This project will enable improved pasture modelling for Queensland as well as providing other data for multiple purposes, including soils health.

TERN expert, Dr Jamie Cleverly said “There is a natural synergy between TERN and the National Soils Advocate. TERN provides infrastructure to address questions about how ecosystems respond to climate extremes and climate change.

“It would not be possible to address these questions without an understanding of how soil properties constrain the functioning of Australia’s ecosystems.” 

Day two saw Ms Wensley visit properties around Giru, starting with St Margaret’s Creek where NQ Dry Tropics and the Mulloon Institute have been working with the landholder to rehydrate the landscape and improve grazing management practices through a range of methods. This included visiting a site where the landholders have been exploring cultural burning as a management tool.

The group then visited Colls Farm where an aquatic weed composting trial is being conducted that removes these weeds from waterways and turns them into compost to use on crops as an alternative to other fertilisers, leading to improved soils health.

The last stop of the day was to gain insights into how a local sugar cane grower went from being below average in productivity in the lowest productivity group in the Burdekin, to having the highest productivity in this group by a significant margin. This was through a successful approach to rehabilitating the sodic and saline levels in the soils with the support of Sugar Research Australia.

Thank you to our landholders, researchers, students and staff who hosted Ms Wensley and her Senior Policy Adviser, Sue Bestow who said “We learnt lots and got to see a good range of soil related issues, and meet with research, extension, landholders, Landcare etc. Fabulous!”

Learn more about Australia’s National Soils Strategy