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Contoured approach with DBS

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Quairading farmer Darryl Richards has plans to remove this Whittington Interceptor Bank, commonly known as a WISALT or “Harry Bank” named after Harry Whittington, who in the late 1970s, developed the concept of arresting lateral water flow to prevent salt degradation and water-eroded paddocks.  Darryl constructed 30 kilometres of banks on his property but is now grading them out as part of a re-design of his property to crop in straight lines.

Quairading farmer Darryl Richards has plans to remove this Whittington Interceptor Bank, commonly known as a WISALT or “Harry Bank” named after Harry Whittington, who in the late 1970s, developed the concept of arresting lateral water flow to prevent salt degradation and water-eroded paddocks. Darryl constructed 30 kilometres of banks on his property but is now grading them out as part of a re-design of his property to crop in straight lines.

By KEN WILSON
Throughout his farming career and like the majority of his peers, Quairading farmer Darryl Richards has always focused on improving the soil.
There was always the handed-down saying from generation to generation of leaving the farm in a better place than when you took it over.
And it’s a truism that healthy soils produce healthy crops and healthy pastures.
In the late 1970s, one of Darryl’s and his father Lloyd’s strategies to improve soil health was to construct Whittington Interceptor Banks, named after Brookton farmer Harry Whittington, who pioneered the concept of arresting lateral water flow to prevent salt degradation and water erosion.
They quickly became known as WISALTS Banks after Harry formed the Whittington Interceptor Salft Affected Land Treatment Society and more popularly “Harry Banks”.
Harry’s proposition was that the banks reduced the volume of water moving on the soil surface and subsurface. The longer water was held where it fell, the more beneficial it would be.
He said correctly constructed banks would prevent surface run-off, reducing through-flow and reducing water-logging in the valley.
The formative years of WISALTS was also an age of learning, as direct drilling was just taking off and more farmers were learning about applying chemicals for weed control.
Into this mix entered a cautious WA Agriculture Department that gave the WISALTS Banks the thumbs down following much publicised trials at Dangin from 1978 to 1982.
Without debating the merits or otherwise of the WISALTS system, it was evident that the concept of arresting lateral water flow and encouraging rain to infiltrate where it fell, was a good one.
According to Darryl the salt problem on his property is no worse now and he suspects there has been a slight improvement growing crops on land that could only grow saltbush in the past.
But the evolution of farming has now seen many farmers filling in the so-called Harry Banks and contour banks to accommodate up-and-back crop establishment, with many adopting controlled traffic farming.
While not embracing the latter system just yet, Darryl is grading out 30km of Harry Banks and contour banks and pulling out fences in paddocks earmarked only for cropping.
It’s a strategic plan to continue a mixed farming enterprise, which includes sheep.
And while he’s not going into controlled traffic farming, he is establishing longer straight lines, up to 2.3km long and employing RTK guidance for up and back workings.
By definition, longer, straighter lines will create more operating efficiencies throughout the year and place less stress on machines - and operators, who will no longer have to negotiate odd shapes and small boundary runs created by the “banks”.
And it means there’s also no need for auto boom shut-off because spraying is now along uninterrupted straight lines.
And always the farmer: “Taking out the banks will also improve our chances of cleaning up the foxes because they used the banks as trenches to hide and escape,” Darryl said.
The decision to take out the banks was an easy one given a number of factors but mainly the desire to crop unproductive country.
“The banks had served their purpose and had become a haven for insects, weeds and weed seeds,” Darryl said. “And with no-till and gypsum treatments the rain is staying where it falls.”
The telling evidence of this is empty dams forcing Darryl to construct roaded catchments alongside fence lines or appropriately graded in paddocks to feed the dams with water run-off.
According to Darryl, grading out the banks is a better option than filling them in using earth-moving equipment.
“We built them using a bulldozer but just filling them is not the answer because the ground becomes too soft,” he said.
“We grade the banks back to the desired contour and the soil packs down.”
Ironically, Darryl said he still has Harry Banks, created by his Ausplow DBS precision seeder.
“Every single tine and press wheel on that machine creates a furrow which in effect is like a mini-Harry Bank,” he said. “It promotes water harvesting so rain stays where it falls.
“Before we got the DBS, the water would sheet off paddocks.”
Combined with the DBS action of deeper working to aerate the soil, treatments of lime sand, gypsum and dolomite, where appropriate, have promoted a healthier soil.
“I think the soil is in far better condition than it was 20 years ago,” Darryl said. “We test every paddock every three years and soil pH readings are rising.
“We are now in a position of having a handle on a more balanced approach to fertiliser application with pH readings from 4.7 to 8 on our mainly medium to heavy country.
“The soil structure is slowly improving and we’re starting to see earthworms which tells me that our old Sunday soils are a thing of the past.”
Interestingly, Darryl’s seeding rate for wheat is 50kg/ha.
“We cut back from 65kg/ha which was to help control weeds but now with the way we manage our paddocks and have them clean at seeding, we know every seed planted by the DBS will come up and compete with any weeds, so we’re confident of sowing at 50kg/ha.
“We’ve even tried sowing barley at 27kg/ha and it yielded the same as our crops sowed at 40 and 45kg/ha rates.
“The thing about the DBS is that the tine doesn’t move and we can dig as deep as we want without mucking up seeding depth, which is a set-and-forget system.”
Of course the cry from opposition camps is that you need a rock picker if you buy a DBS.
“We’ve brought up a lot of rock but it’s getting less and less with 12 inch (30cm) spacings ,” Darryl said. “And working in straight lines there is less inclination for that to happen as tines tend to ride over the rock rather than digging in and pulling it up.”
The other aspect of re-arranging paddocks into longer runs is the enhanced RTK guidance.
“Depending on the season we can sow alongside old rows and not disturb the stubble,” Darryl said.
“We’re operating the DBS on 12 inch (30cm) spacings and we’re getting virtually zero bar drift on the flat paddocks.
“Now and again you see a wave in a row which tells you the bar has drifted a bit but generally we go as close as possible to the stubble at about one and a half inches (38mm) to try to tap into last year’s residual fertiliser and access any moisture for the new plants.”
Overall, Darryl said the main stand-out of creating longer runs was spraying.
“We’re saving a lot of chemical with no overlaps and maximising the spraying windows with time efficiencies because we’re not going back doing cut-outs,” he said.
Published in Farm Weekly June 2014.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014