Five steps to better phosphorus use

Location: Cooma, NSW

Enterprise: Wool, first-cross lamb production, trade cattle

Producer: Oliver Cay

Soil type: Basalt, shale, and granite

Pasture type: 70% phalaris/cocksfoot/lucerne/annuals; 30% stipa/danthonia/annuals

Introduced to the new Five Easy Steps phosphorus tool by his local farming group, one Monaro livestock producer has readily embraced it. 

For Monaro wool and first-cross lamb producer, Oliver Cay, the new Five Easy Steps Phosphorus tool has already put money in the bank. 

By applying the new, predictive computer model to their 1,600ha property, 65km south of Cooma, Oliver and his wife, Jane, have cut their fertiliser bill by almost half while maintaining their stocking rate. 

“Using the tool showed me we were actually over-fertilising some parts of our farm while under doing others,” Oliver said. 

"It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, this tool has a message for you. You can use it from the point of view of trying to achieve peak production and running as many head as you can at optimum P levels, or, you can use a stocking rate your comfortable with as your guide to the required P input.” 

Oliver learnt about the Five Easy Steps tool as a member of the Monaro Farming Systems Soil Club. Formed in 2010 in response to global increases in fertiliser costs, the club adopted the tool as a framework for soil testing, interpretation and objective management of soil fertility. 

As a result, Oliver has learnt how to soil test effectively and how to better match soil fertility with feed supply, animal demand and ultimately return on investment. 

“Using the tool has made us all a lot more confident about setting fertiliser budgets and managing our enterprises more efficiently,” he said. 

“On the Monaro, land is typically varied and can change very quickly from high intensity zones where stocking rates can be pushed, to country not even worth fertilising. To manage this, soil club members divided their properties into management zones and applied their P strategies appropriately.” 

Easy to use 

Oliver said although the P tool required considerable explanation to their group at the beginning (it comes supported by a booklet), the process of using the tool was quite simple. 

“If you can handle emails and checking the weather online, you’ll handle this,” he said. 

“I certainly find it a lot easier than doing the Business Activity Statement (BAS). Part of the learning curve was understanding how to take meaningful soil tests. “Now I test the same five paddocks every year, which act as a control to help build a reliable soil fertility picture, and a further five paddocks to monitor the rest of the farm.” 

Fertiliser pay back 

Oliver and the other soil club members found the economic modelling part of the tool extremely useful, allowing them to calculate the payback period on their fertility investment. 

“What this showed me was that the price of fertiliser in terms of your payback period was, in the long term, irrelevant compared to the price of stock. It was the cost of buying or retaining stock to eat the extra feed that had the greatest impact on profitability,” he said.

Download the phosphorus tool and publication

Complete the southern Australian phosphorus survey

Cooma, NSW
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