Small Talk Spring 2018

In this issue

Compost and mulch in vineyards – a case study from Torbreck Vintners, Barossa Valley

Safer communities – managing fuel across the landscape

2018 Landcare Award finalists – online voting is open

Events – Find out what landholder events are planned for this spring

Handy hint – dung beetle benefits

Things to do in spring – Get your property ready for the spring season

Compost and mulch in vineyards

A case study from Torbreck Vintners, Barossa Valley

Compost for viticulture Marananga. Photo Lucy Hyde

‘Composting in vineyards’ site visit with Nigel at Marananga in April 2018. Photo: Lucy Hyde

An observation of variation in vine performance, and a journey of discovery, learning and application, has brought about remarkable advances in wine production and quality for a Barossa Valley vintner.

Since 1994, Torbreck Vintners have made wine from grapes grown in the Barossa Valley wine region, which has a long history of winemaking dating back to 1842.

Torbreck focuses on Rhone varieties such as Shiraz, Grenache and Mataro, and practises simple and sustainable vineyard management.

Torbreck viticulturist Nigel Blieschke said they use minimum inputs to achieve maximum results.

Why compost and mulch?

The Torbreck vineyards were developed on cropping land where land clearing and traditional farming practices had depleted organic matter in the soil. The soils were poorly structured, highly variable and compacted, and had low water holding capacity. Consequently, the vineyards were highly variable, and had reduced vigour and poor leaf health.

Traditional grape growing practices, including annual crop cover and cultivation, combined with regular gypsum applications and small additions of organic matter, did little to improve the soils. However, a small area on the Descendant Vineyard was clearly performing better than the rest of the vineyard. It previously neighboured a pig farm and received regular manure and straw applications.

Nigel Blieschke said that the vines in this area were the healthiest on the property, produced the highest yields, and required the least water and fertilisers.

This discovery prompted Torbreck to begin, in 2007, trialling different sources of organic matter including wood based mulches, partially composted grape marc, and straw mulch. They settled on a combination of commercial compost and wood based mulch.

In 2015, Nigel attended the Secret Life of Soils Microscope Workshop funded by the Regional Landcare Facilitator in collaboration with Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA). Nigel could see through the microscope that soils rich in organic matter were teeming with life, unlike those that hadn’t received organic matter inputs.

Nigel said that the workshop reinforced his belief in using organic matter to improve soil health, and gave him the confidence to expand the practice across all Torbreck vineyards. He worked with AORA and the Regional Landcare Facilitator to run a seminar and site visit at Torbreck earlier this year to present his results to other viticulturists.

Torbreck is also very mindful of climate change and the impact it will have on growing grapes in the Barossa Valley. They believe that improving soil and vine health, through organic matter inputs, is key to future proofing its vineyards from the likely extreme heat and drought events.

‘It is important that we look after our vineyards so that we leave them in a better condition for future generations,’ said Nigel.

Soil mapping at Torbreck

Soil mapping of a section of Torbreck vineyards

Compost and mulch applications

Torbreck’s structured approach to its composting and mulching program since 2015 has used aerial surveillance combined with soil nutrient, biological and plant analysis, to gain a thorough understanding of the variability of its vineyards. It has implemented several programs to improve the vines.

Replanting program

Before planting:

  • compost mixed with 12.5 kg/m3 of gypsum applied a rate of 40 m3 per hectare to the vine row
  • deep ripping of the vine row

After planting:

  • compost applied at a rate of 40 m3 to the vine row every 3 years
  • woody mulch applied at a rate of 160 m3 to the vine row every 7 years.

Remedial program

  • mid row deep ripping of every second row
  • compost mixed with 12.5 kg/m3 of gypsum applied at a rate of 40 m3 per hectare to the mid row rip line
  • compost applied at a rate of 40 m3 to the vine row every 3 years
  • woody mulch applied at a rate of 160 m3 to the vine row every 7 years

Composting in vineyards. Photo Nigel Blieschke

Composted Torbreck vineyards. Photo: Nigel Blieschke

Key outcomes

Torbreck saw the benefits of its compost and mulch program within the first year. After 12 months, despite receiving 48% less rainfall than the previous year, vineyard variability visibly reduced according to Nigel. He also noticed an improvement in leaf condition, and significant improvement in water use efficiency (30–40%). He attributes this to an increase in soil water holding capacity and reduced water loss from evaporation.

Nigel also measured consistent yield improvements (70–100% in whites; 30–70% in reds) as well as significant improvements in soil health. The biological activity of the soils increased with a higher number of earthworms found at depth. Root penetration and water infiltration to depth also increased, as did the ability to leach salt from the rootzone.

Torbreck has not used any synthetic fertilisers since starting the compost and mulch program. It found that since compost application began, soil nutrient availability has increased. They attribute this to increased biological activity of the soil and the resulting increase in organic nutrient decomposition.

The compost and mulch program delivered significant cost savings to Torbreck through yield improvements, reduced fertiliser inputs and improved wine quality. It has proved to be a very cost-effective management tool and will have long-term positive effects on their soils.

The bottom line

Remedial compost and mulch applications = $1380 per hectare per year (based on purchase and application price of mulch, averaged over 7 years, and compost, averaged over 3 years)

Value add from improved quality = $132,000 per hectare per year (based on 232% increase in bottle value)

Value add from increased yield = $6250 per hectare per year (based on fruit value of $2500/tonne, Barossa Valley Shiraz)

‘Compost and mulch applications seem expensive but you will see improvements that last 7–8 years,’ Nigel said. ‘You get bang for your buck!’

Future plans

Torbreck plans to expand the compost and mulch program to the entire vineyard, not just the weakest areas.

Composting and mulching

  • improve soil health (structure and biology)
  • reduce soil and vine variability
  • reduce evapotranspiration
  • improve overall vine balance.

Mulch vs compost*

Mulch is organic or inorganic material placed on the soil surface as a protective cover. It reduces:

  • irrigation inputs
  • herbicide inputs
  • vine stress and heat damage
  • fertiliser inputs.

Compost is organic material that has undergone controlled biological and chemical decomposition. It is either applied on the soil surface or incorporated into the subsoil as a conditioner. It reduces:

  • irrigation inputs
  • fertiliser inputs
  • chemical inputs
  • risk of crop loss.

*Perth NRM Sustainable Agriculture Factsheet No 2: The use of mulch and compost in vineyards.

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Managing fuel across the landscape for safer communities

Jen Dick, Fire Management, Department for Environment and Water

Prescribed burn on private land. Photo credit DEW

Photo: Department for Environment and Water

Private landholders in areas of high bushfire risk are being asked by the South Australian Government to help reduce the bushfire risk that may exist on their land.

The SA Country Fire Service (CFS), regional Bushfire Management Committees, local governments and the community are identifying areas at the greatest risk of bushfire across the state. These are the areas that will be the focus for a strategic fuel reduction program

Where high bushfire risk is identified, prescribed burning and other fuel reduction techniques are used to reduce the fuel available for bushfires, manage native vegetation and protect biodiversity.

Reducing fuel available can lower the speed and intensity of bushfires, which makes them easier to control, provides a safer environment for fire fighters, and ultimately save lives and property.

Bushfires do not respect property boundaries, so fuel reduction programs must extend beyond them.

This is a critical issue in areas such as the Mount Lofty Ranges where almost two-thirds of the high fuel areas are privately owned, and often close to assets in peri-urban areas.

How areas are identified

Bushfire Management Area Plans (BMAPs) developed by Bushfire Management Committees across the state identify high bushfire risk locations.

These plans aim to assess bushfire risk to assets and determine the most appropriate mitigation strategies. In alignment with current best practice and national trends, the CFS and Department for Environment and Water (DEW) are looking at the best ways to manage fuels within and surrounding these high risk locations. For more information about BMAPs, please visit:

How landholders can be involved

The initial focus will be on the highest priority areas in the highly populated Mount Lofty Ranges. Private landholders can receive assistance through the fuel reduction program in the following ways:

  1. If your land is identified as being high risk and is in a strategic location for community protection, you may be approached by DEW, your local council or a fire prevention officer to discuss options for reducing your bushfire risk. 
  2. If you own land that you think may pose a bushfire risk to the wider community and you are not able to manage the fuel yourself, you can contact DEW staff. Find out whether your property has been identified as a risk and discuss options for its management.

To find out more about the program contact:

Tim Groves, Fire Management Officer, Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges

P: 8336 0914
M: 0427 018 654

Prescribed burn on private land. Photo credit DEW

Photo: Department for Environment and Water

FAQs: Managing fuel across the landscape for safer communities

How do you decide when to burn?

Prescribed burns are conducted when the right intensity can be achieved and it is the safest to do so. The most suitable conditions are usually in spring or autumn when temperatures and fuel moisture are at appropriate levels. Generally, the window of time is fairly short when fuels are dry enough to burn but the weather is mild enough to make it safe.

Is burning harmful to the environment?

Fire is a natural part of the Australian landscape. Australian plants and animals have evolved and adapted to survive particular fire regimes. A fire can cause the death of individual plants and animals, but well-timed fire regimes can actively stimulate the regeneration and renewal of the ecosystem. Find out more about fire and the environment.

How do you make sure it’s safe?

Careful planning, preparation and management are key elements in ensuring prescribed burns remain controlled. Staff wait for the right combination of fuel and weather conditions before going ahead. The right ignition pattern and having appropriate control lines in place are all part of the strategy to reduce risk. Before every burn, DEW carefully assesses the conditions to manage risk factors, and always ensures that appropriate firefighting resources and fall back positions are available.

Do you burn the trees?

Burning at the right time of year in the right conditions makes it possible to conduct low or moderate intensity burns and take out fine fuels which are the greatest hazard. Although some tree bark burns, flames rarely climb as high as the canopy of a tree. Plants at the ground layer burn, but they recover quickly, and within a year the land has green growth again. The reduction in leaf litter and other fine fuels, as well as the burning of some bark on trees, makes the area safer from bushfires for a number of years.

Why do you burn?

Prescribed burning is conducted for asset protection and to open strategic breaks from which to fight a bushfire. Reducing the rate of spread and intensity of a bushfire by creating areas with less available fuel is a crucial tool in fighting fire. Some burns are also planned for environmental outcomes, such as stimulating regeneration or controlling weeds.

Who does the burning?

Prescribed burning is conducted by highly trained firefighters from DEW, CFS, Forestry SA, and/or SA Water. These agencies have trained staff and volunteers, and the equipment and resources needed to ensure a safe and successful burn.

What is expected from private landholders?

If a landowner’s property is identified as being a suitable location for a strategic fuel reduction burn, DEW staff will contact them to discuss the possibility. Preparation of the site and maintenance of the land following the burn will be negotiated in each case.

Are there alternatives to burning?

Mechanical fuel removal, woody weed control, fire track and fire break maintenance all play a part in bushfire management and may be used instead of or in conjunction with prescribed burning. Burning is often the most effective and ecologically sound method of reducing fuel loads across large areas, but this is assessed on a case by case basis.

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2018 National Landcare finalists

Small Talk Spring - Barossa Improved Grazing Group (BIGG)

South Australian Finalist for the Excellence in Sustainable Farm Practices Award: Barossa Improved Grazing Group pictured with Natural Resources staff.

The 2018 National Landcare Award nominees have been announced, with 65 Landcare Champions, across nine categories, making up the finalists. All finalists are also in the running to win the People’s Choice Award. Vote online for your favourite Landcarer or Landcare group up until Wednesday 10 October. All winners will be announced on 11 October.

2018 award categories and South Australian finalists

  • Australian Government Individual Landcarer Award: Peter Watton
  • Australian Government Innovation in Agriculture Land Management: Tom Robinson
  • Australian Government Excellence in Sustainable Farm Practices: Barossa Improved Grazing Group
  • Australian Government Partnerships for Landcare: Goolwa to Wellington LAP Group
  • Austcover Young Landcare Leader: Grace Bassett
  • Fairfax Landcare Community Group: Birdlife Australia Gluepot Reserve
  • Rio Tinto Indigenous Land Management: Isobelle Campbell, Mannum Aboriginal Community Association
  • Coastcare: Hindmarsh Island Landcare Group
  • Woolworths Junior Landcare Team: Mount Compass Area School Swamp Ambassadors

Congratulations to all finalists across the state and nation! You can see more finalist profiles and vote in the People’s Choice Award online.

Places are still available for anyone wanting to attend the National Landcare Conference and Awards, to be held in Brisbane, 10–12 October. This year’s theme, ‘Landcare – building a better tomorrow’, includes presentations on the topics:

  • Sustainable agriculture – innovation and conservation in a changing landscape
  • Community in action – grassroots with a purpose
  • Partnerships – collaboration for successful outcomes
  • Environment – improving and protecting our natural assets.

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Landholder events are supported by funding from your NRM levy and the Australian Government's National Landcare Program.

Sign up for our monthly landholder events calendar for a list of upcoming field days, workshops and courses run by Natural Resources, community groups and industry groups by emailing

See all events coming up.

National Landcare Conference

10–12 October

Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre

Conference Program:

Events - 2018 National Landcare Conference and Awards  

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Handy hint - dung beetle benefits

Handy Hint. Photo Lucy Hyde

Dung beetle and earthworms in rich soil. Photo: Lucy Hyde

Introduce a dung beetle colony to your beef paddock for significant benefits to your pasture quality and soil health. The beetles bury the cattle dung underground, so your pastures will have a lower risk of pasture fouling and disease, fewer flies and dung-borne parasites, and improved soil water infiltration.

In the Mount Lofty Ranges, summer and winter active dung beetles are available for agricultural use.

Natural Resources AMLR recently produced three videos on the benefits, identification, release and monitoring of dung beetles on rural properties. Visit our Youtube channel and search for 'benefits of dung beetles' to learn whether your property is suitable.

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Things to do - spring

  • Test sheep and calves for worms and treat as necessary.
  • As the weather warms, use chemical control, hard grazing or slashing to prevent seed set of pasture weeds to reduce next year’s growth.
  • Start planning your summer rotational grazing pattern. Decide if you will be establishing a sacrifice paddock or using supplementary feed.
  • Review your bushfire action plan and start your clean-up now. Visit for more information.
  • Assess your water resources for the coming months. Will you have enough water for your livestock over summer?
  • Cut hay when digestibility is highest. Good quality hay should be green in colour and sweet smelling, have good legume leaf and be free of weeds.

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Related links

Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges