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The importance of groundcover to soil and animal health

Central West Local Land Services Acting Team Leader- Agricultural Services, Neroli Brennan, is advising producers to be aware of the implications of bare soil and dusty paddocks in current conditions.

The combination of dry soils, negligible groundcover and strong winds is forming dust clouds that are not only carrying away topsoils, but are also creating animal health concerns such as an increased risk of pink eye.

‘The tonnes of nutrients being lost from our soil as dust is huge at the moment, equating to thousands of dollars in key nutrient loss, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur,’ Neroli said

Central West Local Land Services District Veterinarian Jillian Kelly said bare soil and dust also increases the potential risk of soil borne diseases such as Anthrax in livestock.

‘Where possible, we encourage farmers to restrict stock access to bare paddocks and avoid trail feeding grain or placing hay directly onto a dusty or bare soil surface. Vaccinations, fly control and dust minimisation strategies should be considered. We also are strongly encouraging producers to feed stock in drought lots rather than in paddocks,’

‘Anthrax can kill stock of any age or class without warning and is a notifiable, zoonotic disease. Any sudden, unexplained livestock deaths should be reported to your local District Vet for investigation. We are also advising producers who have an anthrax history on their farm to vaccinate now.’ Jillian said.

While bare earth, dust and animal health are current concerns, historically when droughts break, heavy rains follow, often exposing unstable sub-surface soil material leading to poor infiltration, limiting plant emergence and slowing paddock recovery.

Ensuring the soil surface is covered prevents surface crusting and sealing which can help rainfall penetrate the soil and stimulate plant germination and growth.

‘The more groundcover farmers can maintain the faster they will see soils and pastures recover from the drought.’Neroli said

While it may be difficult to achieve, 70 per cent groundcover is recommended prior to restocking a recovering paddock in order to reduce dust and protect the soil surface.

To find out more about soil or animal health, contact your Local Land Services Ag Advisory officer or District Vet.

ENDS

Media Contact: Fiona Townsend, fiona.townsend@lls.nsw.gov.au 0428 284 252