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Bolt-on biological strategies for orchard soil health

Bolt-on biological strategies for orchard soil health

Balingup, Western Australia

  • Author: SWCC
  • Date Posted: Jul 6, 2016
  • Category:
  • Address: Balingup Western Australia

Project Details

Project Delivery: Individual landholder

Contact: Peter Clifton (SWCC – Bunbury). Ph: 9724 2469. Email:

Website: SWCC Sustainable Agriculture

Start Date:  March 2016                     End Date: March 2018

Site ID:  IN14

Size Are Ha: 1

Project Aim

The objective of this project is to see if there is any evidence that adding biology to the soil can benefit soil health. It also aims to demonstrate a broader holistic approach to improving biological soil health that the grower has been following, including the minimisation of chemical-use by using Integrated Pest Management Practices, using of mulch beneath trees to improve soil health, and spraying plants with humic acid.

‘I’m just hoping to create a system for my farm that’s more sustainable, profitable and more environmentally friendly. The reason we got into trialling is because we have problems with tree disease that I’m hoping to solve. But the more I look into it I’m coming up with solutions for broader problems. Originally we were looking for a silver bullet, but the more I look into it, it’s more of a whole system and touching up the way of doing everything. Now I’m looking at soil health and water health. We’ve got to condition the soil and get the organic matter and environment right for micro-organisms to thrive. ’ – David, orchard manager.


Three agronomists / nutrient management advisers will be engaged to assess soil properties with soil and tissue tests, and design a “bolt-on” regime including additives to improve biological properties, aimed at improving soil health, tree health and fruit yield. These will be compared to a control, i.e. the existing nutrient management strategy. The three treatments and control are:

  1. Additional inputs from the Bactivate product range (assessed by Growise).
  2. Additional inputs from the Stoller Rootfeed product range (assessed by David Grays).
  3. Additional inputs from the HiTech Ag product range, including VAM fungi (assessed by Hi Tech Ag).

Monitoring includes:

  • Tree mortality and tree health: This will be monitored by scoring tree health of 20 trees per treatment, five times throughout the trial.
  • Total yield: Yields will be compared between treatments over two years.
  • Fruit quality: Quality will be assessed using a Brix test, a pressure test and a Dry Ash test for nutrient quantity.
  • The cover of mulch beneath trees to ensure no differences betwen treatments
  • Soil tests and tissue tests to assess nutrient availability

Project methods:

  • The three treatments are bolt-on programmes, meaning that they will be applied in addition to the standard practice.
  • This standard practice will occur in all three treatment rowss and a fourth row, the “control”, which will be subjected to the standard practice only. NOTE: standard practice for this orchard includes growing clover beneath the trees and spraying it out to form a mulch, and spraying with Humic acid.
  • Where nutrient limitations are detected through testing in one plot, and inputs are required, these inputs will be applied to all four plots to reduce the risk of confounding the results.
  • The scientific rigour of the demonstration is not high enough to conclude that one product is better than the other. Rigour has been maximised within the confines of daily farm operations.
  • Costs and inputs will be recorded
  • Final results will be analysed by an independent consultant.

*Join the growing number of farmers and industry advisers receiving trial updates by subscribing to SWCC’s Sustainable Agriculture E-newsletter.  Simply email with “Subscribe to SWAG” as the subject.


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