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The quest for sustainable and profitable cropping

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The focus of today's farming is no different to the pioneers. Keep the soil healthy and make money.

The focus of today's farming is no different to the pioneers. Keep the soil healthy and make money.

By Ausplow managing director JOHN RYAN AM

It was very evident to farmers in the early 1960s that changes had to be made to the conventional method of crop establishment - work-up, work-back on the break, then seed.

With annual events of topsoil erosion and declining soil nutrition leading to poorer-yielding crops, sheer economics pushed farmers to assess new ideas.

In the 1950s, NSW farmer Percival (P A) Yeomans led the charge developing a subsoil plough, called the Yeomans Plow, designed to reduce water and soil erosion by lifting and aerating the soil, while limiting soil disturbance.

In the 1960s, WA farmers latched onto a British method of one-pass crop establishment called direct drilling.

Next came farmers - understanding the cause of plough soles from cultivation – who experimented with deep tillage in the late 1970s and 1980s, then blade ploughs, then stubble mulch farming, or conservation tillage, with many employing offset discs to incorporate and break down stubble.

In the 1990s, after nearly 30 years of refining the one-pass crop establishment method, it morphed into no-till.

While many farmers knew little about the soil they tilled, an almost universal code of conduct applied to cropping, with two over-riding principles – trash should be left on the surface (arguably incorporated) and plant roots should be retained in the soil.

And there was more focus on using balanced fertiliser applications, involving N,P,K and trace elements.

There was a lot of talk and many seminars and grower meetings to discuss the benefits of less run-off, improved soil organic matter and soil structure.

But the focus on soil structure almost came to a halt 20 years ago with farmers more focused on weed resistance issues and acidic topsoils.

In the past five years, we have witnessed a flurry of activity, much like the 1950s and 1960s, with farmers looking for better ways to produce better crops.

More than 20 years of no-till has brought with it non-wetting issues to add to the complexity of weed resistance and acidity.

We’ve seen spading, mouldboard ploughing, delving, trials to dig deeper (down to 75cm or 30 inches) but still there’s remains no practical plan for farmers to adopt that can compare with the fairly simplistic approach taken by P A Yeomans.

He understood that soil structure and balanced nutrition, aligned with improved water-holding, were vital keys to sustainable and profitable cropping.

That’s why he adopted his Keyline farming system to harvest the rain that fell, while working the soil on the contour, to enhance the interaction of moisture, subsoil cultivation, covering trash, plant root retention and promoting balanced soil nutrition.

NEXT WEEK: The importance of plant roots.

 

 

 

 

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Publish Date: 
Saturday, February 18, 2017