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Three Rs of farming: Renovate, Rejuvenate, Re-Establish.

Home > News > Three Rs of farming: Renovate, Rejuvenate, Re-Establish.
Ausplow representative Keith Ryan (left) and NSW farmer Greg Chappell examine a flourishing forage sorghum crop. Greg now gets two cuts which he attributes to the DBS> "It gave us an extra 100 bales, which must be because the roots can now access subsoil moisture," he said.

Ausplow representative Keith Ryan (left) and NSW farmer Greg Chappell examine a flourishing forage sorghum crop. Greg now gets two cuts which he attributes to the DBS> "It gave us an extra 100 bales, which must be because the roots can now access subsoil moisture," he said.

Regardless of your business model as a farmer, soil remains the cornerstone to success.
It might sound like a trite comment, but how many farmers, apart from yourself, do you know who are involved in liming, claying, spreading gypsum, deep tillage, spading or mouldboard ploughing?
All of the above, plus a few others, are all strategies aimed at improving the soil, whether it’s attempting to elevate soil pH, mitigate non-wetting soils or building better structured soils for increased water-holding capacity.
And many of the practices have become annual programs, emphasising a well-known fact in farming: There are no magic bullets.
It’s a phrase Glen Innes (New South Wales) farmers Greg and Sally Chappell know only too well, managing their Dulverton Angus stud on their home property ‘Shannon Vale’, comprising 500 cows and 150 bulls, with a further 400 cows on a neighbouring lease block.
The Shannon Vale property totals 3600 acres (1450ha) and when the Chappells bought property in 2001, following a ‘çareer’ in cropping at Moree, it was immediately apparent a strategy was needed to overcome a long history of eroded and compacted soils.
With an annual rainfall of 875mm (35in), it was imperative to take advantage of the available moisture and so began a program to improve the soil’s water-holding capacity by building up carbon levels.
The Chappell’s research showed that for every one percent lift in stored carbon, water-holding capacity was improved by 144,000 litres a hectare every year.
Initial attempts included district practice of superphosphate and nitrogenous fertilisers, chemicals, tillage and set stock grazing management.
But high input costs to maintain pasture production finally forced Greg and Sally to re-evaluate their enterprise and engage in a long-term strategy to get the soil back to a healthier and more productive state.
Weeds were the main problem, particularly African lovegrass, which had negligible nutritional value yet dominated over more palatable pasture species.
So 11 monitoring sites were established to measure soil carbon and soil pH.
The focus was on planned rotational grazing, use of organic fertilisers (composted feedlot waste) and no soil disturbance.
“Since about 2008, we have been re-building the soil by increasing organic and carbon content, through things like mulching weeds, manuring and using a liquid potassium mix, based on plant analysis,” Greg said.
Mulching weeds is initially started by slashing them a few days before removing stock. Little chemical is used, except for spot competition sites.
The herd becomes the mechanised process of smashing up weed ‘stubble’, including lovegrass, bringing it in contact with the soil where biological processes start material decomposition.
“It’s a long-term process but we’re seeing encouraging signs from our measuring sites,” Greg said.
“When we started we were below one for organic carbon and now it’s around 3.5.
“With soil pH it’s gone between 4.4 and 5.7 to 5.9 and 7.1.
“And now, none of the sites are measuring below 5.7.”
His explanation for the change, after a period of only four years, was simple: “We stopped single super (too much acid) and started manuring.
“Before we came, this country has truck loads of single super.”
Of course, there is more to it than that those remarks, but it does make a point about not locking into traditional ways and pushing barriers to discover better pathways of farm management practices.
What the Chappells have achieved in about 10 years has been substantial and has tipped the scale back into profitability. But in farming, you don’t rest on your laurels.
More recently Greg and Sally have been using a DBS/Multistream trial planter after becoming dissatisfied with an aerator seeding machine, which according to Greg, was “okay, but was adding to a compaction problem”.
Last year he established 84 acres (34ha) of pasture with the trial planter, using a balanced granular formula to plant ryegrass and Lucerne.
Greg was impressed with the result, particularly, the under seed cultivation and shattering of the subsoil, breaking up soil hardpans and encouraging water infiltration.
“We also sowed cow pea and we got some tremendous establishments, even when sowing into couch grass patches.
“We’ve created three Rs, with the planter,” Greg said. “We’re renovating and rejuvenating the soil, to re-establish pastures to improve soil health.
“And a healthy soil will produce healthy feed for improved animal health and growth.
“The energy off forage sorghum is about 10.6 per cent while the protein is about 15.8 per cent, so it’s a good outcome.
“And we get good weight gains around 1.4kg a day.
“We’ve got to get a two-year-old up to terminal weight and it costs,” he said. “But I think by using the DBS and Multistream we’re accelerating the process we started because we didn’t factor in this type of deep tillage in the beginning.
“And we’ve introduced dung beetles to get those cow pads into the soil to bring up the carbon levels and we’re creating a worm environment.
“The dungies are our best friends. They bury the dung thereby breaking the worm cycle resulting in less harmful chemistry entering the soil destroying worms, microbes, etc.
“We’re getting less incidence of disease, less Buffalo fly and less drenching.
Dung pads also help break the Buffalo fly cycle and so are less harmful to ‘’low order life’’ chemistry entering our system.
It’s our contention that if this chemistry “kills” lower order life, then it has to be having a negative effect on “Primates”.
Dung in the ground also means the nutrients are being positively re-cycled particularly potassium.
In January, Greg used the DBS planter to establish a forage sorghum and cow pea crop (for N in the silage), which is used as silage feed for the cattle.
“On our first cut we took off 14 tonnes a hectare which gave us 136 bales,” Greg said. “Last year we sowed with the aerator and only got one cut which gave us 129 bales.
“This year we got a second cut which gave us an extra 100 bales, which must be because the roots could get down into moisture from that deeper working with the DBS.
“Our usual method in planting the sorghum was to spin it (seed) out and roll it in with tyre rollers.
“With the DBS we’ve probably doubled our yield.”
According to Greg, the DBS has already proven itself by his three Rs analogy and, “going forward it will be a major component in our system”.
Greg has now ordered a 15-foot (4.5m) DBS on 10-inch (25cm) spacings with a mounted Multistream on the bar and liquid tanks on the drawbar to provide him with the capacity to switch between granular applications and liquids.
“It’s especially good for mixing up the K-brew, so we’re pretty happy with the machine,” he said.
“The liquids give us a chance to move forward with a balanced nutrition package being introduced into the soil, providing more benefit for high performance pasture growth.”
And a pleasing feature of the DBS, according to Greg, is that you don’t have to wait for moisture to start a sowing program.
“The DBS penetrates the subsoil and breaks up the hardpans and you can get moisture coming up to wet up the seed beds,” Greg said.
“It is our intention to use the DBS to establish and rejuvenate pastures that have been severely depleted as a result of erratic rainfall distribution, Corbie Grubs, etc.
The benefits of the machine include:
1. One pass function reducing operational costs.
2. The machine’s unique design enables it to break through existing plow pans thereby enhancing water and oxygen infiltration.
3. The machine can handle substantial trash levels enabling us to plant directly into existing, albeit, depleting pasture swards without using chemicals.
4. This enables the positive contribution from soil microbes.
“Let’s give biology a GO.”

Publish Date: 
Saturday, February 2, 2019