TRIALS of mouldboard ploughing to alleviate non-wetting soils near Corrigin in the central Wheatbelt have produced impressive initial results, including high crop yields and low weed numbers in what was a poor performing paddock.
But the research, supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Regional Cropping Solutions (RCS) initiative, also confirmed there are many lessons yet to be learnt about the use of the tool.
The Corrigin Farm Improvement Group (CFIG) is conducting some of the region’s first trials of mouldboard ploughing, already used by a number of growers in Western Australia’s northern grainbelt, but less common farther south.
The CFIG research is also investigating other options for non-wetting soils including wetting agents, winged points and in-row seeding (as opposed to inter-row seeding) and is one of five RCS non-wetting soils projects in the western part of the Kwinana port zone.
Farmers and agronomists recently inspected the CFIG site located on the property of Neville and Glenys Turner between Corrigin and Quairading.
Local farmer, CFIG member and trained agronomist Simon Wallwork said the CFIG applied to the GRDC Kwinana West RCS Network to fund research in the area after non-wetting soils were identified as a worsening local issue.
“CFIG were also interested in mouldboarding as an option for non-wetting soils after seeing some pretty incredible results in 2011 on the Turner’s property,” he said.
“The site mouldboarded in 2011 yielded 3.8 tonnes per hectare of wheat and was the highest yielding of any wheat crop on the property, even though it wasn’t seeded until early July.
“Although no pre-emergent chemicals were used for the 2011 trial, we found there were no weeds in the crop during the growing season and very few over summer, with only a handful of wireweed coming through.”
However, weed numbers were higher in the 2012 mouldboarding trial, attributed to incorrect set-up of the ‘skimmer plates’ in front of the larger blades on the plough.
Mr Wallwork said the trial results reflected findings from the northern grainbelt which showed that mouldboard ploughing effectively changed the soil type by bringing subsoil to the surface.
“This means that chemicals need to be applied with caution, particularly in the case of trifluralin interacting with soils with low organic matter,” he said.
“Excessive clay brought to the surface can also reduce crop germination.”
Mr Wallwork said another factor to consider when mouldboarding was the soil moisture content at the time of using the tool.
“Many believe that soil moisture must be good at the time of mouldboarding and that seeding should occur within hours of the plough being used so that the soil is still damp and wind erosion risk is reduced,” he said.
Mr Wallwork said the relatively low cost of the mouldboard operation at the CFIG site - $140/ha (including fuel) - combined with the better crop performance and weed control, showed it could be an attractive option for local growers.
Further trial work by the CFIG will investigate the effectiveness of mouldboard ploughing in different soil zones, how to perfect the process and additional options for local non-wetting soils including spaders.