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.