West Gillingarra family puts the pieces together

30 Oct, 2002 10:00 PM
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WHAT Moora farmer Peter Nixon realised when he bought a property at west Gillingarra was the need for an integrated approach to create a total farm system.

It had to be a system that was reasonably stable, easily managed and constructed in such a way that maximised water use and increased production.

Put another way, it had to be sustainable and profitable.

What he was confronted with were three distinct soil types ‹ high gravel country, gutless sands in the intermediary landscape and year-round wet areas in most valley floor areas.

So he began an extensive fencing program, which included two to four hectare paddocks in wet areas with water points ‹ 30 across the farm.

Initially he started with tagasaste in the upslope areas, with the idea of growing cadiz serradella and perennials inter-row.

But such a system became too complex given the different management requirements between the tagasaste and pastures.

"Grazing regimes were different and spraying was difficult," Peter said.

"It basically went against our parameter of easy management."

Using an Ausplow DBS, he established lupins and oats in the high conglomerate gravel country ‹ "areas which would normally wreck seeding machines".

"The DBS allowed us to break through to a reasonable depth and we were surprised how productive the soil became," Peter said.

"It also was used in sandy areas and we got brilliant germinations, especially in non-wetting areas."

In the drier downslopes, comprising "gutless" white sands (down to 10m), Peter recognised he needed a plant and fertiliser regime to kick start the organic matter to increase soil fertility.

"The plant we found useful was cadiz serradella," he said.

"It provides plenty of bulk and in a normal year is still green in mid-January."

The other benefit is that it also is treated as a seed crop, providing another income stream.

From the fertiliser side, Peter believes that apart from phosphate, potassium is a key.

"It (potassium) is one of the best dollar spends on this property," he said.

"I would rate it as important as phosphorous or maybe slightly ahead.

"Sulphur also is another important addition."

Peter said the smaller "wet" paddocks, even though expensive to fence (electric), had become the most productive areas on the farm.

They are mainly used for summer grazing but winter grazing is also an option.

In a four-week trial two years ago, Peter produced one tonne of meat per hectare on the wet areas over summer.

And at times during spring, he has reached stocking rates as high as 50 DSE.

In the first year he ran 1000 sheep on the property. Now he is running 3500 plus producing a lot of crop.

He has deep tilled the wet areas and achieved "significant" results with balansa and strawberry clovers, kikuyu grass and "a few other plants".

"The trick has been to find what is the best plant for the February-April period when clovers tend to shut down and aren't productive enough," Peter said.

"We think kikuyu may be the answer but we're still assessing plants."

What about lucerne?

"Lucerne has been a heartache," he said.

"We have spent a lot of time and money to establish lucerne in the wet spots and it just seems to run out of steam and not want to put roots into the water.

"We've tried all sorts of things with the Agriculture Department, including a treatment of 750kg/ha of potassium. Claying, lime and carbon treatments haven't worked either.

"It's a bit of a mystery although there is a problem in growing lucerne on these white sands.

"Maybe when we build up enough soil fertility we might grow plants like lucerne."

Peter's approach in developing the property has been to start with basic ingredients in an effort to build up the soil.

"We still don't understand the whole mechanism of the soil profile and its ability to hold and recycle nutrients," he said.

"We will still do a lot of experimenting because it's all part of the learning experience."

This year Peter gained a dollar-for-dollar Farm Innovation Grant to complete watering points, fencing and pasture development.

"It means we can go from experimentation to implementation of a whole farm system," he said.

"We've put part of the jigsaw together and we're on our way to completing the picture."

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