CARBON is the key to better soil health, according to Nuffield scholar and South Australian grower Grant Pontifex.
Mr Pontifex, who farms at Paskeville, spent eight weeks travelling to the United Kingdom, France, Canada and the United States to investigate manure storage and application, cover, rely and companion cropping and building carbon.
He presented his findings at the Grains Research Update, Perth, on Monday and said the more carbon there was, the better crops would go.
"Improving that soil organic carbon improves water infiltration and extraction, nutrient extraction and improves resistance to pests and diseases," Mr Pontifex said.
"If we concentrate on building carbon up in our soil and base every decision we make on how we can get more carbon in the system, that will go a long way to reducing our reliance on synthetic pesticides and insecticides."
Mr Pontifex has been using chicken manure as the sole source of nutrition for his crops for the past 15 years.
"I've been looking for a way to improve the efficiency of manure application and to try and extend that ability to use organic material rather than synthetic for crops," he said.
"Manure has been the basis of our improved organic carbon and improved resilience in our system.
"The past two years have been the worst we've had in my career and we had 200 millilitres annual rainfall last year, which is half our average and we still grew 3.5 tonne of wheat and barley to the hectare, a lot of that came from the slow release ability of manure and the ability of it to hold rainfall."
Mr Pontifex also said soil cover was the easiest thing to start off with to improve soil health.
"Most people in WA are pretty leading in this field of storing and capturing as much residue as they can and making at last as long as they can because they never know when the next drought or low rainfall season is around the corner," he said.
"That reside on the surface regulates soil temperature, prevents erosion and you can capture a lot more moisture if it does rain when you can maintain that cover."