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Beetles with benefits

01 July 2020

The Ferguson family has seen the soil health benefits from dung beetle activity at their property for more than four decades.

Dave Ferguson believes dung beetles are a zero‑to‑low maintenance part of his enterprise, working tirelessly to improve soil texture, water permeation and add valuable nutrients to his paddocks.

“Just about everywhere you go on the place, if you kick a pat over you’ll see beetle activity and tunnels underneath them,” Dave said.

“Every hole represents soil that’s been cycled and manure that’s been taken underground to improve nutrient levels, so you know it’s beneficial.”

Along with this cycling, the beetles also clear land of dung to stop nutrient run‑off into waterways – essentially providing free land improvement.

“Since we’ve owned this property we haven’t done anything in particular to look after the beetles and their health and activity has been fine,” Dave said.

“It’s just an unbelievably low‑maintenance system and one that carries a lot of benefits for the land.”

Dung beetle activity at the Fergusons’ property, ‘Kimo Estate’, is being monitored by the MLA‑supported Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers (DBEE) project to research their distribution and activity in different environmental regions across southern Australia.

Dave’s participation in the DBEE project is part of a long family history of involvement in agricultural trials.

“Since the 1960s, Dad’s been involved in agricultural trials of programs such as carrying capacity and input rates, so I’m following his lead.

“There’s potential for valuable information to be extracted from this research, which can be returned to producers, so we’re really happy to take part in programs like this.”

In particular, Dave’s interested to see what species of dung beetles are seasonally active at their property and if there’s potential to increase their numbers.

Lessons learned

  • Dung beetles are a low‑maintenance system for land improvement.
  • Identifying seasonally active dung beetle species will ensure year‑round benefits are achieved.