Soil health focus reaps rewards

04 Feb, 2015 01:00 AM
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9
 
Wee Waa grower Geoff Rogers has been able to reduce crop inputs and screenings while improving soil biology.
I’m a farmer who thinks the dirt is my greatest asset and I’ve got to look after it
Wee Waa grower Geoff Rogers has been able to reduce crop inputs and screenings while improving soil biology.

REDUCED screenings and inputs combined with a $40 a tonne profit premium on wheat treated with a soil activator, due to it making high protein segregations, have convinced northern NSW grower Geoff Rogers he’s on the right path in focusing on soil health.

Mr Rogers, of Wee Waa in the State’s north-west, had been left scratching to find a solution to plateauing productivity and declining soil organic matter despite a treadmill of high synthetic fertiliser inputs.

His crops consumed an average of 110 kilograms a hectare of urea and he was constantly trialling trace elements and alternative fertilisers to find the right nutrient balance.

“I’m a farmer who thinks the dirt is my greatest asset and I’ve got to look after it,’’ he said.

“My country needs a good spell, it has had a hammering and the returns just haven’t been there of late.’’

Mr Rogers treated 130ha of dryland wheat and barley, and 65ha of faba beans in 2014 with the soil activator, TM Agricultural, and was surprised to have the crops yield well on just 75 millimetres of growing season rainfall (April-October).

Organically certified, TM Agricultural uses plant extracts to stimulate indigenous soil microbes.

Under the tough conditions, the Sunlin wheat yielded 1.25 tonnes/hectare while the faba beans yielded 1.32 tonnes/ha – all planted with no conventional fertiliser.

Aside from the reduced inputs, soil structure has improved with increased friability, aggregation and biological activity.

Geoff and his wife Trish operate the 1220ha property Yarranbah, running 900 Merino ewes joined to White Suffolks and 30 Angus cows.

The 2014 cropping enterprise comprised 343ha of wheat, 65ha of faba beans and 50ha of barley.

The property is set in a 520mm rainfall zone and soils are grey clay with a pH of 7.8.

Geoff sowed the Sunlin wheat in late April with a split application of TM Ag at 250ml/ha. The dual purpose variety suited grazing if conditions turned tough.

With such a dry start to the year, he made an early decision to use no urea in case of total crop failure.

At a crop check in June, a visible difference between the treated and untreated areas of the paddock was evident.

“The TM treated area was significantly more friable, was not as dry, already displaying soil aggregation and changing colour,’’ Mr Rogers said.

At harvest, the crop in the control area tested at 10.4 per cent protein, had a test weight of 75kg/hectolitre and one per cent screenings.

In the TM treated area, protein was 11.6 per cent, test weight 80kg/hectolitre and screenings 0.6 per cent.

Mr Rogers said the wheat in the TM half of the paddock graded H2 worth $298/tonne while the wheat in the control was APW grade worth $258/tonne.

“This $40/tonne difference equated to $50/ha increase in profit from spending $25/ha on two TM Ag applications, and this was achieved in a dry year,’’ he said.

“This time last year I thought it was snake oil – 12 months later I’m thinking I cannot afford to not use it across the whole farm.’’

A decade ago, Geoff was farming conventionally, spraying stubbles and using harrows to reduce trash loads, followed by a urea application and sowing.

He attended a seminar by soil scientist Dr Christine Jones and became fascinated with enhancing soil biology on his farm.

“I made the decision not to apply any fertiliser (in 2014) because of the dry season and just go with the TM Ag to see what happened,’’ Mr Rogers said.

He worked with local agronomist Keiran Knight, of Best Environmental Technologies.

“From a farmer’s perspective, the prices we are receiving for our commodities are so low in comparison to the cost of growing a crop, we can’t afford to keep applying high amounts of inputs as it further reduces our marginal returns,’’ Mrs Knight said.

She has completed successful trials of TM Ag in regional crops of wheat, cotton, chickpeas, barley and faba beans.

“We are collecting samples from Mr Rogers along with others from different regions in NSW and Victoria to undergo detailed testing for mineral density, vitamin content and other quality parameters,’’ Mrs Knight said.

Mr Roger said TM application was simple as opening a drum and tank mixing with Roundup.

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READER COMMENTS

aussiebattler
1/08/2015 7:37:56 PM

Good on you for resisting peer pressure Geoff we all may learn something valuable.
Farmer Joe
7/04/2015 7:36:29 PM

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Sometimes ignorance challenges us to look outside our range of knowledge to find out what we don't know. Sometimes this can be confronting. Mostly this can be beyond our known ability to comprehend. Sometimes with one little bit of acquired knowledge we can grow our overall acceptance of modern science beyond what we now know and understand. Unfortunately sometimes we dump on the messenger because we are scared of the fact we are ignorant of.
Zero till
11/02/2015 5:25:28 PM

Love country, not only are you an expert on no till farming in WA you are a soil scientist in north west nsw. Lets be frank and honest you have never set foot in either place. I don't no much about dream catchers and basket weaving which im sure your an enthusiast, but I think I know a bit about modern cropping.
Love the country
8/02/2015 5:03:09 AM

Notice the comment, country needs a good spell, dead right. Noonargh people had the country looking good, and in the last 50 years of hammering it, most farms look crap with yearly production decline.
Zero till
4/02/2015 5:12:40 PM

Fred, GRDC money has funded actual scientific trials throughout Australia and on our farm looking at different fertiliser treatments. The problem is most companies flogging a biological silver bullet refuse to have there products tested and independently evaluated to back up their claims. An article in a paper and a testimonial from a farmer using something once just doesn't cut it.
jeffito
4/02/2015 2:13:09 PM

What is TM soil activator? It's a secret! From the suppliers web site: "TM Agricultural is extracted from all natural sources (plant extracts mainly from wheat & barley) and remains in a natural state. The method of extraction is proprietary and completely safe with no chemicals used in its manufacture." So there you have it. Is it safe? But it is "natural" you reply. Well so are death cap mushrooms. Why doesn't it get the same safety assessment as ag chemicals? Where are the replicated field trial data demonstrating it works? All secret. And a minority complain about chem companies!
Fred Haskins
4/02/2015 9:52:55 AM

Bob F, your GRCD levy research money is more likely to tied to a Monsanto grant and carried out by university or research station that relies on funds from the biotech companies. So, yes, there is very little "scientific" research. These biological farming systems must have some credence as the biotech companies are going down this path in the US Suggest you take the time and attend one of YLAD's field days. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. You might like the taste.
Bob F
4/02/2015 9:07:19 AM

If this is so great where is the research to back it up? None I would guess. Anyone selling a product and promoting it ought to insist on good scientific data to support such claims. Such claims are a dime a dozen and never backed by science.
Fertile Farm
4/02/2015 8:07:24 AM

Awesome outcome. Its no surprise that improved soil health results in more robust production.

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