Bill Cotching - Soil Scientist & Ceramic Artist

Soil management and research, ceramics, Tasmania, Australia

 Nutrient distribution in dairy pasture paddocks

 Watch my video to hear about the implications of my research on nutrient distribution in dairy pasture paddocks. 


The Tasmanian team of Fert$mart advisers (Bill Cotching, Luke Taylor, Seona Findlay)

   Check out the video on youtube

 has been a key component of the success of Fert$mart in Tasmania together with coordination from Dr Rachel Brown.

 Funding has been provided by Dairy Australia, The Australian Government with contributions from NRM North, NRM South and Cradle Coast NRM.

 This project has a very significant legacy in Tasmania – it has been a valuable and worthwhile investment of $75,000 to create momentum for what has become a major extension program for DairyTas.

·          This project gave the opportunity for Fert$mart to be delivered in Tasmania.  In the 18 months since the first Fert$mart plan was delivered, Fert$mart has grown to be a key extension program for DairyTas.  Farmers were recently consulted about industry activities that should be incorporated into the next Dairy Industry Strategic Plan and Fert$mart was identified as a key priority.

·         Fert$mart has provided an opportunity for upskilling of service providers in Tasmanian dairy.  Collectively Fert$mart is “raising the bar” of fertiliser advice available to dairy farmers.

·         90 farms have benefited from Fert$mart plans which have win-win outcomes for farmers and the environment.

 Fert$mart soil tests show that:

·         Only 3% of dairy paddocks were in optimum ranges for all soil fertility indicators - pH, P, K and S.  There is a huge opportunity to improve performance of Tasmanian dairy pastures by strategic application of lime and fertilisers to get more even fertility across farms.

·         Soil testing is critical to targeting your fertiliser spend, especially in tight seasons

Water for profit

Bill is providing expert input for soil characterisation to support decision modelling tools (see more)

King Island dairy farms Fert$mart soil and nutrient management plans

This project provided nutrient mapping, nutrient budgets and fertiliser recommendations for eleven dairy farms on King Island

as individual Fert$mart plans. Savings in fertiliser costs can be large as found in previous projects (link).

These are the farms that supply milk for the award winning King Island Dairy brand cheeses.

All the farmers were interviewed to up-date farm nutrient budget information and current fertiliser application (product, rate, timing). Soil sampling was undertaken on the 11 farms (10 paddocks/farm). The samples were analysed for pH (water), Olsen P, Colwell potassium (K), KCL, sulphur (S). Farm nutrient budgets and individual farm reports were written that included nutrient maps and recommendations on fertiliser and lime application for the next 12 months (right product, right rate, right placement, right timing). 

This project was funded by the Dairy Australia Fert$mart program, Cradle Coast NRM and the Australian Government. 

Pilbara Corridors

Bill Cotching has managed a landscape scale project in the Fortescue River catchment of the Pilbara for Rangelands NRM WA, that connects across management boundaries and provides coordinated responses to biodiversity threats. This six year project is funded by the Australian Government’s Biodiversity Fund and works in collaboration with people in the Fortescue River catchment of WA’s Pilbara region - pastoral, mining and government land managers, and the indigenous community - through shared knowledge and best practices.

Pastoral investment in the Pilbara follows ESRM planning

Rangelands NRM is working with pastoralists in the Pilbara to implement priority actions from previously undertaken Ecologically Sustainable Rangelands Management (ESRM) planning. (see more)

Wealth from Water

The Tasmanian Government's Wealth from Water Pilot Program aims to assist farmers and potential investors to develop their irrigation businesses and help make the transition to growing the high-value crops best suited to their area. The Pilot is pioneering new ways for providing soil, climate and enterprise suitability information, as well as market and business planning support. Bill is developing a number of crop rules to guide site suitability fact sheets plus irrigation fact sheets.

Soil Quality

Bill was the local Tasmanian 'Soil Champion' for this project and provided the technical input for the Tasmanian data.

This project uses over 100 benchmark sites in Tasmania as a base for farmers to compare their data with others in the same region or similar climate.                

The web site allows farmers to interrogate the data and to find out additional information from a series of fact sheets. 

Farmers can use the site to: 

  • Examine soil properties through Australia's agricultural regions.
  • Compare your soil test results with your neighbours.
  • Investigate soil quality indicator relationships.
  • Discover the importance of Soil Biology.

State of Environment Report 2011

Bill contributed to the Australian State of Environment Report Soil Carbon workshop in Adelaide (March 2011) and prepared the SOE soil carbon and soil acidification reports for Tasmania.

Nutrient Management for Circular Head Dairy Farms

This project undertook nutrient budgeting with Northwest region dairy farmers and extended the findings from previous nutrient management projects to dairy farmers in the region. The project built on the work done previously to improve farmer awareness and willingness to undertake changes on their farm. The farms are in Togari and Brittons Swamp where dairying is the major land use activity. The project also enabled researchers to look at what changes had taken place since these farms were nutrient mapped 5 years previously. The project was funded by DairyTas, Dairy Australia and Cradle Coast NRM.

Fore information on the effectiveness of nutrient mapping and budgeting check out this brochure.

Landscape Logic

The Tasmanian Retrospective project of Landscape Logic  identified the relative impact of land use, land management and previous landscape interventions on water quality; provided new knowledge and improved assumptions about the responsiveness of river health to water quality as a result of historic changes in land resource parameters; and provided new knowledge and improved assumptions about responsiveness of estuarine health to water quality as a result of historic changes in land resource parameters.

 Managing nutrient loss under intensive cropping in north-west Tasmania

 End of catchment annual nutrient loads and nutrient generation rates for different land uses in Tasmania

 Modelling the influences of land use and land management on water quality

Provision of ASRIS datasets to CSIRO Land & Water

This project provided data for uploading onto the Australian Soil Resource information System(ASRIS) website that is hosted by CSIRO . The information is at Level 4, is based on Land Systems of Tasmania, and was supplied to CSIRO. This project provides baseline information for the agricultural zone in Tasmania. This information provides a web based resource of soil information that can be drawn on by industry stakeholders, private individuals and governments.

Assessment of soil carbon stores at the farm scale in Tasmania

This project measured current on-farm soil carbon stores by physical measurement, and compared different scales of assessment of farm carbon stores.  Assessment of farm carbon stores was compared using farm scale maps (1:10 000 – 1:25 000) to regional scale information on the Australian soil resource information system (ASRIS) (1:250 000)which is accessible via www. The ASRIS information is an integrated value of soil properties for each polygon, based on up to 6 soil components for each polygon attributed in the database.