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Growing vegies 'same as growing crops'

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South Fremantle market gardener Lori Sumich is totally convinced deep tillage is a required management practice growing vegetables.

South Fremantle market gardener Lori Sumich is totally convinced deep tillage is a required management practice growing vegetables.

There’s not much difference between growing vegetables and broadacre food crops.
That’s the opinion of well-known market gardener Lori Sumich who has more than 50 years’ experience in the industry.
Arguably you’ve got more control of moisture in a vegetable bed than in moisture-limited areas of the Australia’s wheatbelt, but essentially, it’s a story of air, moisture and nutrients.
And that story is where you find the origin of the Deep Blade System (DBS).
Lori has known Ausplow managing director and DBS inventor John Ryan since the 1980s and John convinced Lori that deep ripping was the way to go, along with deep banding of fertiliser.
His relationship with Lori grew after a trip to Italy to attend an agricultural conference with the late Peter Mirco, a machinery dealer specialising in market gardening, who also was a good friend of John’s.
When John moved to WA after a successful career, including designing the popular Agrowplow - 4000 units were sold between 1977 and 1985.
According to Lori, he and John talked the whole way to Italy about plant establishment and on their return
A somewhat sceptical Lori had to see it with his own eyes – massive yield increases in his lettuce crops – to be convinced, and since then deep ripping has become a management practice.
“We made several prototype rippers to get it right so we could place the fertiliser about three or four inches (75-100mm) underneath the seed.” Lori said. “The deep ripper carried fertiliser and seed hoppers with fertiliser introduced behind the ripping tines.
“Growing onions at Manjimup and Pemberton, you had to drill the super right below the seed and it had to be precise because if the roots didn’t hit it you didn’t get good plant growth,” Lori said.
“In those heavier soils down south the P can be tied up, not like the sandy soils up here where it is more soluble.
“The sort of precision we chase is what is happening with broadacre growers.”
For the majority of the 25 years Lori has been deep ripping, he has used a three-point linkage Agrowplow.
“John made it for me to suit vegie growing,” he said. “It was a five-shank machine and it did the job.
“Now I’ve got a three-row Ausplow model which is three-point linkage with four shanks and leading coulters.
“It’s 1.93 metres wide which is the bed width and it is specifically used for ripping after planting and for renovating empty beds and to improve drainage on low-lying areas.
“We generally rip between 16 and 18 inches (400-450mm) with the leading coulters opening up the ground to make it easier for the shank and the shoe.”
(Ausplow engineering manager Carol Erasmus is overseeing research and development on Lori’s Mandogalup property looking to improve shank and blade wear and overall digging efficiency).
Lori no longer employs deep banding of fertilisers, having switched to fertigation to introduce N,P,K, calcium and other trace elements.
After a crop, seed bed preparation starts for the new crop, with rotary hoeing before seeding.
Then ripping starts, typically two weeks after lettuce plantings and three weeks after celery plantings.
“Ripping puts oxygen in the soil and allows better moisture penetration for roots to access,” Lori said. “It’s very evident that breaking up the soil is beneficial to plants because we can see healthy plants growing and giving us better yields.”
And importantly for Lori, his produce has to taste good.
“If it tastes good you know it has got the right salts from the N,P,K and magnesium,” he said. “If there’s no taste, the plant is hungry for nutrients.”
Using fertigation, Lori has specific ‘nutrient blends’ for different crops and again he says it is no different to broadacre nutrient applications.
“In broadacre you would set up your nutrient requirements based on what you think you’re crops will yield,” he said.
“We do the same, only where you might plan for a three-tonne wheat crop, we plan for between 50 and 100 tonnes a hectare for our cabbages, carrots, potatoes, etc.
“It’s just working out nutrient units per volume and according to soil type.
“For example, if we know our celery will go 80 tonnes, we might out on 400kg/ha of potash in the heavier soils and it will stay there.
“But in our lighter soils we wouldn’t do that because it’ll leach so we put it on as-required by monitoring the crops.”
According to Lori, if he became a broadacre farmer, his preference would be to grow crops with centre pivots to ensure moisture management.
And for crop establishment?
“DBS is the right way,” he said.

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Saturday, May 4, 2019