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MEDIA RELEASE - The power of dung beetles and biochar

4 October 2019

A partnership between biochar and dung burying beetles is hoping to be a valuable formula for generating productive soil pasture on John Keiller’s Portland-based sheep grazing property.

His prime lamb property Cashmore Park is being used in a first-of-its-kind trial adding biochar to stock feed to investigate how its combination with burrowing dung beetles can transform pasture management systems, reduce carbon footprints and provide economic gains.

The work will headline this month’s on-farm study studies in the region’s first Australia New Zealand Biochar Biochar Initiative (ANZBI) Study Tour on Monday 21 October 2019 alongside neighbouring farmers Les and May Telfer who are using biochar in their cereal crops.

The dung beetle project, led by the South West Prime Lamb Group, has been funded in partnership with Agriculture Victoria, Meat and Livestock Australia and the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority.

The project has involved adding two per cent biochar to Mr Keiller’s stock feed, with manure collected and transferred to the plot site, where it is used alongside non biochar fed manure with and without dung beetles across 30 plots.

Mr Keiller said the trial, which is just four months into a two year study, was providing a greater understanding of the beetle and role of biochar in soil productivity, showcasing how deep the beetle could burrow.

He said early signs showed it was creating a productive ecosystem to improve pasture growth, soil productivity and carbon sequestration.

“We are seeing benefits already,” Mr Keiller said.

“Research indications globally show (biochar) can add to productivity and we are really asking that question. Biochar has the ability to put carbon in soil which has to be a good thing. We don’t want to go to thousands parts per million … but we

“The early indications are (biochar) adds to nutrient retention and also there are indications it adds to moisture retention which extends the growing season. In a drying climate, or in any situation, to maintain moisture has to be very, very good.”

Mr Keiller, who is a second generation farmer, is well-recognised for his cutting edge on-farm studies and high productivity rates.

In addition to the biochar project, he is a collaborator in the Federal Government Dung Beetle program hosting a dung beetle nursery to help bolster declining populations and to assist in establishing new breeds.

He said he had grown an interest in biochar questioning the “value and opportunities” of the product which is in abundant supply in the Green Triangle region.

“My interest in biochar is that it will be a resource in this area in some stage in the future, the question is what is it benefits and how do we best use it?

“The indications are it will increase productivity but what are the rates, the affordability, how much do we need? There is plenty of biomaterial … the material is here, but the question is how can we best benefit?

To learn more about the study tour, or to register, visit

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