Bill's laconic approach to soil improvement

08 Mar, 2015 01:00 AM
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Part-time consultant, former Department of Food and Agriculture researcher Bill Bowden can still captivate an audience with his dry humour and salient facts, such as his appearance at the Soils Masterclass in Scaddan. He talks with farmers about a forensic analysis of a soil pit, encouraging them to
Burnt windrows are often a better indicator of the best fertility .
Part-time consultant, former Department of Food and Agriculture researcher Bill Bowden can still captivate an audience with his dry humour and salient facts, such as his appearance at the Soils Masterclass in Scaddan. He talks with farmers about

EXPERIENCE usually is the first pick in any team.

So it wasn't surprising to see former Department of Food and Agriculture (DAFWA) researcher Bill Bowden - and now part-time researcher - in the recent Soils Masterclass line-up of speakers.

His laconic style is well known throughout the Wheatbelt, along with his blue knitted hat, and he is at his most comfortable in a soil pit, where he can whip through several subjects while pointing out the advantages of seeing what's below the surface.

These days he admits to his age and his repetitiveness, almost as a legal disclaimer before he starts talking.

He could be saying: The following is advice only and should not be interpreted as the direction for your actions.

But generally Bill's advice is worth listening to and acting on.

His favourite spiel at the moment concerns his so-called Strip Club.

He asks the question of farmers: Do you know if your soil fertility is up to scratch?

And he follows up by encouraging farmers to put out some diagnostic fertiliser strips.

"Better still, also get a handle on liming requirements by burning some windrowed stubble strips and look out for where there are responses around your farm in this year's crops," he said.

Bill is helping the West Midlands Group to develop farmer-based diagnostic methods for determining soil fertility constraints, on the back of funding from COGGO and GRDC through the Kwinana West Regional Cropping Solutions Network.

"The methods will include use of cheap, up to date and readily available crop and soil monitoring devices," he said.

"At its simplest, all you have to do while seeding is shut off your fertiliser for one run and double or triple, or go as high as you can, for the next run.

"Any signs of visual responses allow you to position plant sampling on and off the runs.

"Tissue analysis of compared samples gives a better method of testing your soil fertility than normal tissue testing.

"Ideally your test strip should be more than adequate in all nutrients and this may not be possible by just doubling your fertiliser rates.

"But it's a start.

"Burnt windrows are often a better indicator of the best fertility because they concentrate a lot of residues in one strip.

"We are asking growers to put out strips or windrows and let us know so that we can monitor, sample and interpret the results with you.''

This will be a free service for participating growers, who can participate by contacting Anne at the West Midlands Group on 9651 4008 or anne@wmgroup.com.

Having dispensed with the plug, Bill encouraged farmers to locally calibrate soil tests.

"Base the calibration on trials grown locally and get a good lab (soil laboratory) and tell them how deep the test was taken," he said.

"And within reason, always replace what you remove as part of nutrient budgeting.

"There will be certain environments where such an exercise can be costly but don't waste dollars where you are not going to get a big response.

"Don't rely on methodology and predictions but know your yield potential and manage accordingly."

Bill's take-home message was to find ways to do your own investigations, including the old favourite of putting a clod of soil in a jar, wetting it, shaking the jar and leaving it to settle out to see what you've got.

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Ken Wilson

Ken Wilson

is Farm Weekly's machinery writer

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