More Geographe farmers sowing the seeds for healthy waterways

Craig DuncanAugusta Margaret River Times
A record number of farmers attended workshops ran as part of Healthy Estuaries WA’s Soil Wise fertiliser management program.
Camera IconA record number of farmers attended workshops ran as part of Healthy Estuaries WA’s Soil Wise fertiliser management program. Credit: Department of Water and Environmental Regulation/RegionalHUB

WA’s iconic waterways sustain our cities, estuaries and even our oceans, so maintaining their health is a top priority for many across the State.

This year more farmers than ever before are taking part in Healthy Estuaries WA’s Soil Wise fertiliser management program to improve the health of WA’s many unique estuaries.

A record 257 farms are involved with Healthy Estuaries WA’s program, which is a $25 million State Government commitment aimed at improving and protecting the health of the Peel-Harvey Estuary, Leschenault Estuary, Vasse-Geographe waterways, Hardy Inlet, Wilson Inlet, Torbay Inlet and Oyster Harbour.

By running soil tests, farmers are able to have a better understanding of the needs of their farmland and use less fertilisers than usual.

Healthy Estuaries WA estimates farmers taking part in the program could save about $12,000 on phosphorus fertilising costs and across the entire program the amount of phosphorous applied to farms could be reduced by 668,000kg, saving a total of $3m.

GeoCatch co-ordinator Harriet Wyatt said the savings were substantial for farmers.

“One farmer opened his soil test results with his agronomist next to him,” she said.

“The agronomist saw how much excess phosphorus was in the soil and said to the farmer ‘you and I could go to America and back with the dollars you are going to be saving on fertiliser’.”

Beyond the savings, using less fertiliser is one of the key ways farmers can ensure water bodies can remain healthy.

When too much fertiliser is added to farmland, the excess is washed down the many rivers that feed estuaries and fuels algal growth.

A Department of Water and Environmental Regulation spokesperson said while algae was a natural part of an aquatic ecosystem, too much algae could kill fish and harm human health.

Ms Wyatt said the program was a win for farmers and waterways.

“By only applying the nutrients or fertiliser that the soil and plant actually requires, we can reduce excess nutrients entering our waterways and estuaries,” she said.

“Since 2009, over 40 per cent of the Geographe catchment has been soil tested, contributing to an estimated annual reduction of 3.5 tonnes of phosphorus entering Geographe Bay.”

Expressions of interest for the next round of the program will open in May and can be submitted at the Healthy Estuaries WA website.

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