CROP responses to a new carbon fertiliser pellet direct-sown through growers' seeding systems in a range of trials across the Wheatbelt are triggering interest and even a little surprise within the industry.
Developed by Carbon Ag, the carbon-rich fertiliser, branded C33, contains 33 per cent carbon, more than 45pc organic matter and a balance of other nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, copper, zinc, manganese, magnesium and calcium.
The trials, part of a three-year research program, are being conducted with farming enterprises near Esperance, Pingrup, Kulin, Tammin, New Norcia and Binnu, comprising a range of crops including wheat, barley, canola, export oaten hay and lupins.
Viridis Ag is co-ordinating an extensive trial over about 50 hectares of sandplain soils on its property at Beaumont, near Esperance, that is being overseen by a local agricultural adviser.
Some of the treatments in the trial include the addition of the carbon fertiliser pellet to normal and reduced crop nutrition, application of the carbon fertiliser alone, as well as areas where no fertiliser has been applied.
While the trial has commenced in barley this season, it will run over three years and with a range of crops within the rotation on the property that can include wheat, barley, lentils and canola.
"We will be looking at various aspects like visual, NDVI and harvest results, including from the use of mapping technologies, as well as the soil science over the period,'' said Matthew Tonkin with Viridis Ag.
"Yield is not always what we are looking for.
"It's about where to spend the invested dollar.
"The focus is on profit generated per hectare.
"Dollars is what everyone understands and that is what we are after.
"If we get the soil science right, we will generate more profit.''
Mr Tonkin said early observations so far were very promising for the C33 carbon fertiliser pellet.
"Where the carbon fertiliser has been applied, the crop is looking vibrant and there is improved root development and structure," he said.
"There is a lot in soil science - bacteria and life in the soil that you don't see.
"Leaf tissue tests have also shown promising nutrient availability and there is a definite crop biomass difference (compared with where the carbon has not been applied).
"How that relates to dollars gained will be interesting to see.
"If there is a benefit and it's cost-effective, it will be incorporated into a larger area from next year.''
Mr Tonkin, who has spent the past five years investigating different regenerative practices, said in the future he hoped improved soils could help feed plants, rather than just soil-applied fertilisers.
"We will target our fertiliser spend better and look at more foliar fertiliser applications,'' he said.
Agricultural agronomist and adviser HF De Wet, Meag Soil Consultancy, is co-ordinating the fully replicated trials near New Norcia, Tammin, Kulin and Pingrup and said visual observations so far, further supported by initial tissue test results, were very positive.
Applications in the trials include the normal crop nutrition applied at the properties plus half of the nutrition, and with each of these treatments receiving the carbon fertiliser pellet at 50 kilograms per hectare and 100kg/ha.
All treatments will also receive the same post-seeding nutrition and pesticides throughout the season.
Mr De Wet, who is looking forward to viewing the cumulative effects of applying the carbon product in the trials over three years, said visually there was higher crop biomass where C33 had been applied.
"It's a bit difficult to quantify the difference between the 50kg/ha and 100kg/ha applications, but it definitely stands out against where it wasn't applied and it stands out to the line, so it's not the soil doing it,'' Mr De Wet said.
He said the key factor contributing to the higher crop biomass resulting from the application of the carbon fertiliser was retention of moisture and nutrition around the root zone.
"It's holding on to moisture a bit longer," Mr De Wet said.
"In theory, it could provide a benefit in drier starts, but it could also help conserve moisture from summer rains.
"It's also creating an exchange capacity that is allowing to hold on to applied nutrition for longer, without leaching - or getting fixed or trapped.
"We can lose a fair bit of nutrients like nitrogen, sulphur and potassium, as well as copper, zinc and manganese trace elements.
"The increase in organic matter is holding on to the nutrition around the roots for longer and making it available to plants when they need it.
"An increase in biological activity is making more nutrients in the soil plant available.''
Mr De Wet said he was surprised with the response of canola to C33 at Kulin due to the trial location on heavier soils that can have constraints.
"I thought the response would be stronger in sandy soils," he said.
"I think it is the lack of structure and organic matter in heavier soils.
"Biological activity is very low and there is a lack of water filtration and aeration."
Leaf tissue results from the trials are still to be statistically analysed, but Mr De Wet said they were showing higher nitrogen uptake where the carbon fertiliser pellet was applied.
"The trend is higher nitrogen, phosphate and potassium levels at the mid tillering (Z30-31) stage in the treatments that received the carbon fertiliser," he said.
Mr De Wet said further analysis of the plant roots and biological activity between the different treatments was set to be conducted soon and final yields, grain quality and return on investment would be assessed at harvest.
The carbon fertiliser pellet also will be available in granule form for growers next season, while other soil amendment products in the Carbon Ag range include the use of lime, gypsum and trace elements, as well as liquid fertilisers.
Carbon Ag is also investigating a carbon sequestration program for growers resulting from the use of its products, with a leading provider joining its display at the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days on August 28-29, at site 123B near the oval.
For further information on the C33 carbon fertiliser pellet, trials and wider Carbon Ag product range, growers can contact Brad Wisewould at Carbon Ag on 0429 107 919.