Soil testing uncovers crop restraints

17 Jan, 2015 01:00 AM
Miling farmer Tony White.
We’re growing an extra tonne per hectare of grain so we’ve recouped our costs
Miling farmer Tony White.

THE move four years ago to soil test at depth revealed a significant acidity problem for Miling farmer Tony White, but opened the way for a liming treatment program which has bolstered yields even in low rainfall years.

Mr White had been a regular participant in on-farm trials and routinely tested his soil to a depth of 10 centimetres.

But his management practices had been based on an incomplete picture, until he discovered soil acidity was his biggest yield limiting factor.

“I couldn’t work out why some of my neighbours were getting better yields with the same rainfall. The only difference was they were running their own road train to the beach and bringing back lime sand for a pH fix,” Mr White said.

“For years we were testing the top 10 centimetres of soil and getting told everything was okay. Once we went from 10 – 20 centimetres down we found trouble and once we went from 20 – 30 centimetres we found real trouble.

“Each year now we cart back over 1000 tonnes of lime sand and our crop yields are far better, even on less rain.”

Located in the region’s northern grainbelt, Mr White with his partner and family, run a 2000-hectare property that grows export hay and malt barely as well as canola, lupins and wheat, depending on paddock suitability.

Mr White said his soil types range from yellow sand plain to heavy grey clays and has an average rainfall of 320 millimetres.

Non-wetting and acidic soils are common for Mr White’s area, which prompted the change in direction four years ago, based on advice from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), which recommends soil testing to a depth of 30cm to identify and address subsoil constraints as well as top soil deficiencies.

The information provided allowed him to address both problems in tandem. His first move was to address the non-wetting soils by trialling a deep ripping strategy.

“We didn’t get the results we were expecting, so we jumped into spading which gave us 700 kilograms a hectare difference compared with our un-spaded paddocks,” he said.

“The following year we trialled spading and mouldboarding and we found the mouldboarding was slightly better for the same operating costs.

“Mouldboarding enables us to bury weed seeds, get the ripping of the hardpan, get an inversion with the lime sand as well as treating non-wetting soils in the one pass.

“It’s costing us $120 a hectare for the mouldboarding and another $60 a hectare for the lime, but we’re growing an extra tonne per hectare of grain so we’ve recouped our costs back in the first year.

“We’ve got one paddock up the other end of the farm last year that went 3.4 tonne of wheat and I think this year it’s probably going to do over 4-tonne barely crop which is quite okay on 200 millimetres of rain.”

The GRDC has been supporting the adoption of mouldboard ploughing in sandy regions like the northern grainbelt of WA to reduce the impact of non-wetting soils and improve on-farm productivity.

Research supported by the GRDC has demonstrated the practice improves soil moisture penetration, reduces weed regeneration and assists in lime dispersal.

However, with the added heavy machinery operating on his farm, Mr White has started to see the effects of compaction. Controlled traffic farming (CTF) will be the next practice change that he explores, he said.

“We hadn’t noticed compaction so much over the years because the soils hadn’t been ameliorated to this extent, but now we’re using the mouldboard plough and we’re fluffing up the soil we can really see where the tracks have gone,” he said.

“If I could give advice to anyone I’d say, whatever type of crop you’re going to grow or whatever soil amelioration you’re going to do, it all comes down to the economics of each paddock.

“I think you’ve got to be pretty careful with what sort of soils you’re dealing with and what benefit is going to be gained.”

Date: Newest first | Oldest first


17/01/2015 6:29:39 AM

GRDC trying to sell its relevance yet again, albeit very poorly. The reality is this advice on effective soil testing is given by independent soil scientists and the lime companies themselves. GRDC levies nothing more than a tax on gross proceeds, whether you make money that year or not.
19/01/2015 8:03:29 AM

Another propaganda puff piece. Farmers have been testing and liming for decades. Just a another reason why this archaic and self serving system needs a comprehensive independent review. This tax on gross proceeds is a gross impost on profitability with highly questionable benefits. Research is vital but grain levy payers must now question whether this system is the best way of delivering benefit from this tax. But with a war chest the size of Fort Knox to fund defence of the system, it will be a tough battle.
Unhappy cocky
19/01/2015 12:01:46 PM

I think the record is broken, D8 and toro, trotting out their same old rhetoric. Easy to throw stones, boys, how about some constructive ideas. You say research is vital you just don't want to pay for it. Ever heard of "free riders" - you boys are it.
beacon boy
19/01/2015 1:19:52 PM

out these parts the grdc drain is taking its toll. been a while since we turned a profit for consecutive years. no amount of research will make it rain more. more equity on the other hand will make us more resiliant. the system is broke, the only free riders as far as i can see is the grdc.
19/01/2015 2:36:23 PM

Unhappy Cocky sounds like one of the sycophantic disciples that are abound. Toro never said he didn't want to pay for vital research. But if we're to have a compulsory levy on gross proceeds with it's inherent impact on grain grower profitability then at least analyse whether this system of administering research( now 25 years old) delivers the claimed benefits.
19/01/2015 4:55:16 PM

Oops, looks like Torobrook's comment at 5.36pm was written by someone else. Why would Torobrook write, "Toro never said he didn't want to pay for vital research". Wouldn't he say, "I never said I didn't want to pay for vital research", D8?
hands off my cash
19/01/2015 10:18:17 PM

Unhappy or ignorant cocky? There are better ways to fund research, and more cost-effectively, than to a govt monopoly. This archaic structure is killing entire communities. The double dip of Levies and End Point Royalties now exceeds $5.50/t, LEPR by name, LEPR by nature. Amending an arrangement does not mean "no research".
angry australian
20/01/2015 5:36:17 AM

On the current GRDC webpage it lists a project "Demonstrating adaption to climate change in the wheatbelt of WA", when is it envisaged this "climate change" will happen? Next year, in a decade,50 years, a century? Why are farmers financing an issue that MAY not affect their profitability NOW? The terms of reference were couched in the vague generalisations that researchers use to justify the need for this "essential" work. Surely this was a project that met a national need and should have been funded by the taxpayer not the GRDC.
20/01/2015 6:44:07 AM

GRDC it seem to me to have at least 2 roles. First to invest the farmer levy and the frequently forgotten tax payers matching contribution in research and secondly to publicise knowledge to get uptake, application and deployment of knowledge. Doesn't matter if the knowledge is new or old, if it is not being applied it remains useless. So don't knock the extension and publicity activities of GRDC if it continues to educate those who may be not applying current best practice.
20/01/2015 6:58:07 AM

Jeffito has shown why the GRDC levy is nothing more than welfare for the researcher and intended welfare for the bottom dwellers. The levy should never be used to try and pick up the struggling farmers, they have all the incentive to do that themselves. It's called not going broke! I do not want my hard earned money being used for social programs, plain and simple! The levy just doesn't work!
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6  |  next >


Screen name *
Email address *
Remember me?
Comment *


light grey arrow
I'm one of the people who want marijuana to be legalized, some city have been approved it but
light grey arrow
#blueysmegacarshowandcruise2019 10 years on Daniels Ute will be apart of another massive cause.
light grey arrow
Australia's live animal trade is nothing but a blood stained industry that suits those who