Subsidised soil testing brings economic and environmental benefits to south-west farmers

Media release
Expressions of interest have opened for a subsidised soil testing and fertiliser management program through the Healthy Estuaries WA and Soil Wise programs.
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These government-funded programs enable farmers to make the most of their fertiliser investment and optimise pasture productivity, with significant economic and environmental benefits.

Previous participants could save an average of $12,000 per year on the cost of phosphorus fertiliser by following the soil test recommendations. In doing so, phosphorus loss from the farm is minimised, optimising phosphorus needed for pasture growth and out of waterways where they can fuel potentially harmful algal blooms.

Participating farmers test soils across their whole farm, receive support to interpret the results and make evidence-based decisions on nutrient management. In consultation with an agronomist, farmers receive a fertiliser plan specific to their production requirements for every paddock tested.

Sheep and cattle farmer Greg Sounness from the Wilson Inlet catchment participated in the program in 2022 and recommends it to other growers to inform nutrient management decisions.

“The best part of the program was having access to the agronomists, DPIRD and DWER expertise to support our management decisions,” Mr Sounness said.

“We got access to really good quality advice and information, and we were able to reduce our fertiliser inputs and achieve the same level of production. This is so important to us from an economic perspective and allows us to make decisions based on evidence rather than guessing.”

David Weaver, Principal Scientist from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) said that extensive research shows that most paddocks have sufficient phosphorus for good pasture growth.

“Although soils in WA have a reputation for being nutrient poor, our testing of 30,000 paddocks covering more than 370,000 hectares of farmland since 2009 has found that more than 70 per cent of paddocks have phosphorus levels higher than what is needed for maximum pasture growth,” Mr Weaver said.

“This means that many farmers are applying more phosphorus than their soils and pastures need. At the same time, they are not addressing other productivity constraints such as soil acidity or potassium and sulphur deficiencies. In most cases, money is wasted on phosphorus fertiliser that is not needed. Savings can be made and redirected to address any constraints identified through the soil tests.”

Sustainable Agriculture Project Coordinator Dr Deborah Holtham from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation said: “Excess nutrients are lost from soils and enter waterways, where they increase the growth of aquatic plants and fuel harmful algal blooms. This can cause fish kills and be dangerous to human health.

“These negative impacts on water quality are projected to worsen with declining rainfall and increasing temperatures. It is more important than ever for farmers to manage their soils and improve nutrient use efficiency. Farmers can help protect our water resources and build resilience in sensitive aquatic ecosystems as we all adapt to variable seasonal conditions and climate change.”

The fertiliser management program is delivered in partnership with the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Peel-Harvey Catchment Council, Leschenault Catchment Council, GeoCatch, Lower Blackwood Land Conservation District Committee, Wilson Inlet Catchment Committee, Torbay Catchment Group and Oyster Harbour Catchment Group.

Expressions of interest close on Sunday 25 June 2023 and can be completed online at

The program is a part of Healthy Estuaries WA – a State Government initiative that aims to improve the health of our south-west estuaries, and Soil Wise – funded by the National Landcare Program Smart Farms Small Grants – an Australian Government initiative.