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What you need to know about farming on Australian soil


A recipe for getting it right

Hypothetically, let’s say you were baking a cake. You would know roughly which ingredients you need for it to come out resembling a cake – flour, milk, eggs, sugar… etc.

But you don’t have a recipe.

Then how do you know what quantity of each ingredient to put in the bowl for the cake to turn out right? Too much milk and it won’t rise, no eggs and it won’t bake properly. You essentially have to guess the ratios and hope for the best.

So you guess. You bake the cake, bring it out, allow it to cool and bite into it. After two bites you feel sick and you have a headache. Turns out two cups of sugar is too much!

While this is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek analogy, it does reflect the approach that many farmers take when treating their soil – they guess the ratios and hope for the best.

While they may feel worlds apart, the same logic for baking a cake applies to your soil: your soil needs the right elements at the right ratios to provide the best possible foundation for your crops and grass to grow, enabling you to go to market with the highest quality produce.

So, here is our ‘recipe’ for healthy soil.

Good soil = 25% air + 25% water + 45% minerals + 5% organic matter

Seems simple enough.

Now let’s take into account the various soil types that we have to work with in Australia. The ‘ingredients’ that make up these soil types will differ, which means that these soils each have a different ability to hold nutrients. For example:

  • Sandy soil near the beach lacks the ability to hold nutrients and often can’t hold water.
  • Clay soil isn’t porous which means air has trouble getting through. In winter, clay gets very cold because air can’t penetrate to be an insulator.
  • Loam has reasonable amounts of air, water, minerals and organic matter, and as a result, does a good job of providing a nutritious base for crop and grass.


In addition to having such a range of soil types, Australia is also home to some of the oldest soil in the world. As it’s not held together by a lot of clay, this soil is more likely to be eroded by wind and rain. In addition, our open land is particularly susceptible to wind blowing away the nutrients in the top soil, so we need to keep this in mind if farming in very flat areas.

Adding to the complexity of farming with Australian soil is the degree to which it varies from state to state. For example:

  • Queensland soil is primarily acidic. Water filters down from the mountains and bubbles up out of the soil, therefore QLD farmers will spend a lot of time balancing this acidity.
  • Victorian soil is very shallow. As opposed to QLD soil, which can be up to 1m deep, Victorian soil is only about 10 inches deep before you hit the hard, unusable soil. This means that when the soil starts to dry up, crops don’t have the luxury of using moisture from the sub-soil.
  • Western Australian has some very calcareous soil which can often be too alkaline creating the need for some areas to be corrected.


With the knowledge that Australia has very diverse soil types across the country, we clearly need to be aware of the ratios of our soil’s ‘ingredients’ so that the seeds we sow will not only grow, but will be highly nutritious and delicious – not just for us, but for our livestock too!

The importance of caring for your farm from the ground up is vital to farm profitability. To find out where to start, we recommend testing your soil.  Having complete visibility of the health of your soil means you can take out the guesswork and specifically compensate what it’s lacking in, no matter what state you’re in or what conditions you’re facing.

Get the chance for a free soil test and take the first step towards a more profitable farm: call Max on 0408 039 297 to organise your soil test now.

Now, anyone for cake?

Max Hansford has over 30 years of practical experience helping agricultural and livestock farms revive their soil fertility. As the founder and director of TNN Industries, Max sources the highest quality inputs to build sustainable farm management programs, along with his trusted team of consultants.


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