Mouldboarding crests cropping wave

31 Aug, 2011 02:00 AM
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Standing in the same paddock earlier this month, Charlie Messina (left) and his sons Andrew and Rodney, inspect healthy wheat plants tillering as good as wheat plants established on deep tilled country three weeks earlier.
Standing in the same paddock earlier this month, Charlie Messina (left) and his sons Andrew and Rodney, inspect healthy wheat plants tillering as good as wheat plants established on deep tilled country three weeks earlier.

THERE would be a few skeptical farmers around who would say in a good rainfall year, anything can work.

And to a certain extent, Mullewa farmers Charlie, Andrew and Rodney Messina agree.

Surveying 1450ha of mouldboarded wheat established on sand over clay on their property earlier this month, the trio agreed a more conventional crop establishment practice would have presented similar above average potential crops.

Summer rain totalled 180mm and since January the rain recordings total 360mm, just above the 350mm annual average.

So with an excellent subsoil moisture profile before seeding started, it could be argued the season was basically set up.

But the salient point for the trio is in a drier year, a conventional system would be less forgiving.

It is an important point and one that a handful of other WA farmers have grasped in the quest to discover a sustainable and profitable cropping system.

"In the longer term, we believe mouldboard ploughing will give us the ability to grow more consistently higher-yielding crops," Andrew said. "We've trialled the system for two years and we're planning to do 1000ha a year until we have mouldboarded the whole farm.

"In theory, once we've finished we probably won't have to mouldboard again but we will gain residual benefits for many years ahead."

Last year's move to trial mouldboarding created a paradigm shift in controlling resistant ryegrass populations and non-wetting sands.

The trials, also involving spading, were the result of exasperation of another dry year with poor crop germinations when it did rain, along with difficulty controlling ryegrass.

"We tried spading to overcome the water repellency issues but we also wanted good weed control and the mouldboard has delivered both," Rodney said.

"With the ryegrass results, our control trial revealed 900 ryegrass plants a square metre, the mouldboard achieved a 98 per cent kill of ryegrass while the spader trial showed a 43pc kill."

Doing their sums, it quickly became apparent to the family that using the mouldboard would eliminate pre-emergent spraying for hopefully at least two years.

"That meant we could save chemical cost and pay for the mouldboard," Charlie said. "We also got the bonus of eliminating non-wetting sands, giving us the potential to grow higher-yielding crops for more profit."

This year's 1450ha trial, has seen excellent germinations and robust early growth in exceptionally clean paddocks with the topsoil streaked with subsoil clay.

Interestingly, tiller counts on mouldboarded wheat plants were as good as plants on deep tilled paddocks sown three weeks earlier.

"And all those tillers on the mouldboarded plants will make it," Rodney said.

Already there are plans to grow cereal on cereal next year because the clean paddocks provide the ability to sow early without waiting to spray a knockdown program.

"We can hit sowing windows with a lot more confidence," Andrew said. "That's important for us because we don't want to be under pressure to complete the program and end up sowing too late."

Andrew and Rodney established the trial as if they were sowing a normal wheat crop except no chemical was used.

"At first we rolled and packed the soil we had moulboarded but then decided because of time issues, cost of two passes and the risk of losing moisture, we would go straight in," Rodney said.

"We weren't worried about soil blowing because the clay we turned over was wet and firm."

Following the mouldboarding, using a 14 board Gregoire Besson model, which produced a 6.2 metre (20ft) wide cut, a second hand 12m (40ft) Concord seeder was used to sow Mace and Westonia wheat at 9km/h.

"The Concord is a heavy bar and there were concerns it would sink in the soft soil but its packer wheels at the rear and castor wheels at the front enabled it to almost float over the soil," Rodney said.

"We tried a DBS and it didn't work as well but initially, on the packed and rolled soil, which we left for two or three days, the DBS did really well."

The interesting aspect of the Concord is sowing is achieved with 10cm (4in) sweep points.

Logically with the mouldboard inverting soil from a 30cm (12in) depth, there is no need for knife points to be used to break hardpans.

The action of the Concord also leaves deep furrows so sowing is done to counter prevailing winds, with the furrows inhibiting any blow while protecting germinating plants and encouraging water harvesting.

From this year's experience, the brothers believe mouldboarding should only be done in moist soils.

"But of course, in this area of the Wheatbelt, moisture is our biggest constraint," Andrew said. "So our mouldboarding program may not go according to plan."

According to Rodney, mouldboarded land will retain more moisture in drier years because of improved infiltration.

That also means improved aeration of the soil, increased biomass, increased oxidation at depth and improved soil structure.

"Each paddock we mouldboard will effectively increase the (moisture) bucket of that paddock," he said. "The bonus is we also can accelerate soil amelioration with lime, for example, to overcome subsoil acidity problems."

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