TWO Badgingarra farmers believe a decades-old European system of farming could become one of the most exciting developments in WA's agricultural history.
David Hayes and Dennis Martin say the system, called spading, could significantly rejuvenate millions of hectares of Australia's water-repellent soils which limit crop yields and pasture growth, increase the potential for water run-off and wind erosion and cause unwanted in-crop weed problems.
Trial work on their neighbouring properties since last November has convinced the pair to expand spading programs on areas of their properties where water-repellent soils have limited crop and pasture production.
Spading basically involves thorough mixing of any surface material into the top soil.
Commercial spader machines are capable of mixing soil to depths of 30cm to 35cm (12-14in), employing rotary spade sweeps with an optional power harrow to level the soil.
David and Dennis believe that in Australia, a better option to use behind a spader would be coil packers.
The pair became interested in spading after swapping experiences about the frustrations of incorporating clay on the patches of their property which exhibited non-wetting characteristics.
"We had been using clay for six years after hitting a brick wall with the repellent issue," Dennis said.
"While we had never been able to incorporate the clay deeper than four inches, we initially thought we had solved the non-wetting problem because we got great germinations.
"But three years into claying out the non-wetting patches, we both discovered that near the end of the growing season, the clay in the top four inches was drawing moisture into that soil layer and drying out the root zone and effectively droughting the crops.
"Plus we ended up with this hardened topsoil that just made matters worse."
Last year Dennis went on a "discovery tour" to South Australia to assess a commercial Dutch-made three-point linkage Imants rotary spader, which comprises seven banks of four rotating blades with a working width of three metres and a digging depth of 30cm.
A power harrow also was incorporated at the rear of the machine to level the disturbed soil.
This year David bought a 4.5m model which he operates at 9km/h digging to depths around 35cm.
"I'm really excited by what I see on my property," David said. "This year I spaded 400ha of non-wetting sand over clay that had previously been clayed.
"I sowed Rottnest canola into it and it is looking really great.
"It's on typical Badgy grey soil where you would look at it and say you can't grow anything.
"And that's generally true but after I've spaded this type of country it won't be true anymore.
"On other areas of the farm I've spaded a few runs in various crops and you can visually see where we've been.
"But I think the best result is doing a water test in the same paddock.
"You can pour water onto the soil where we haven't spaded and it just sits there for minutes.
"On spaded country, only metres away, the water disappears into the soil in seconds."