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Students recognised for farm soil project

By Country News

Two secondary students from a livestock property have demonstrated the impacts of pesticides and fertilisers on soil performance in a national award program.

They are finalists in the 2019 BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards.

The 2019 finalists were announced last week and come from NSW, Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia and the ACT.

All students conducted independent research or engineering projects and entered their state Science Teacher Association awards, making them eligible for the BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards.

Making positive impacts to the world was a big motivator for all the student finalists.

The inspiration for 17-year-old Tiarra Meier and 15-year-old Anne Zimmerman’s project was their home, a property in Elsmore, NSW.

‘‘The land had been conventionally farmed since the 1950s,’’ Tiarra said.

‘‘In 1999, my dad successfully changed how the property was managed by using concentrated groups of livestock in small areas for short periods and then a big rest period to mimic natural grazing.’’ she said.

‘‘However, there were still paddocks where plants didn’t grow well despite good rainfall and grazing management so we decided to investigate.

‘‘We discovered that long-term use of pesticides, fertilisers and excessive ploughing all negatively impact soil biology and began to explore if this could be the missing link for many of our paddocks.

‘‘During our research we found that a lack of healthy soil biology is affecting nutrient density of plants grown for food.

‘‘It meant that our investigation was not only about improving the environment to benefit the farmer but it had wider impacts for food quality.’’

Anne said it was a lot of work in the beginning with background research, setting up trial plots, watering and testing the soil before and after.

‘‘We selected six plots and had the soil chemically and biologically analysed to see what we were working with,’’ Anne said.

‘‘We then applied chemical and biological amendments to increase soil health and tested the soil again after five months.’’

The winners of the BHP award will be announced on February 5 at a ceremony in Melbourne.