NITROGEN and herbicide management is becoming increasingly important to farm sustainability and profits.
This was evidenced by about 60 farmers attending Western Mineral Fertilisers' (WMF) 2012 conference at Northam last week to hear a range of keynote speakers talk on nitrogen and herbicide management.
According to WMF senior microbiologist Paul Storer, his company's cropping and pasture programs were able to present a viable way of producing high quality nutritious produce and at the same time shift to more sustainable and less chemically-dependent practises.
Mr Storer believed many farmers look to herbicides as essential for dealing with weeds and protecting crops but have struggled in getting the balance right.
With weeds becoming resistant to many herbicides, Mr Storer said the answer in the past had been to throw more herbicide cocktails at them which only compounded the problem.
"Instead farmers should be encouraging soil microbiology as a way of increasing nutrient uptake, plant growth, harvest yield and quality," Mr Storer said.
Mr Storer said because of this it was essential to identify which herbicides were the least damaging to soil health and to crop yield when implementing WMF programs.
Living Farm agricultural and research consultant Richard Devlin talked on some of the results of a two-year Pingelly trial that looked at which herbicides were the least damaging to soil health and to crop yield.
Mr Devlin examined the effects on soil biology and yield, applying several commonly used pre-emergent herbicides and their residual effect over several seasons while using WMF's mineral fertiliser and microbe program.
"The comprehensive results showed that herbicide use plays a significant management role in farming systems and not just on weeds," Mr Devlin said.
"Some herbicide cocktails can dramatically increase or decrease soil microbial biomass, soil carbon and nutrient availability and this directly correlates to yield and farm profit."
Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) research officer Dr Angelo Loi, spoke on legume pastures and their beneficial impact on farming systems, as well as the effective nodulation and the impact of factors like herbicides.
Dr Loi said planting legume pasture species such as Biserrula, Gland clover and French and Yellow serradella can save growers on costs, due to their ability to suppress weeds, fix nitrogen and be used as a fodder for sheep.
"Harvesting the seed is also a relatively cheap option to establish clover," he said.
BASF business director, chemicals and fertilisers Charlie Engelbogen spoke on Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) fertilisers' classification and how a change in the fertiliser classification means a licence was needed to transport store and handle any product containing more than 45 per cent ammonium nitrate.
"This has resulted in less usage of CAN fertilisers in the Australian market," Mr Engelbogen said.
Mr Engelbogen said a new CAN and Sulphate of Ammonia blend of fertiliser, called WMF-N, required no licence and showcased some of the trial work using CAN in the broadacre market.
WMF senior agronomist Bert Naude spoke on risk management and the impact of nitrogen and herbicides on biological programs, before Emerald Group grains manager Steve Field looked at grain quality in WA.
Mr Field also discussed where WA grain was heading export-wise and looked at global grain markets before giving an insight into what Emerald Group can offer farmers from a grain marketing point of view.