Near-row sowing a benefit in water-repellent soils

category: 
Soils
Photo A: Infiltration into water repellent soil of a one per cent blue dye solution in water. taken about two hours after blue dye application on 22 September 2011 and (b) nine days later following 27 mm of rainfall, on 1 October 2011 in a wheat crop sown on 25 May 2011 at Wanilla, South Australia..

Photo A: Infiltration into water repellent soil of a one per cent blue dye solution in water. taken about two hours after blue dye application on 22 September 2011 and (b) nine days later following 27 mm of rainfall, on 1 October 2011 in a wheat crop sown on 25 May 2011 at Wanilla, South Australia..

Photo B: Blue dye solution entered the soil via root pathways in the surface repellent layer, but below this layer water spread horizontally, more evenly wetting the non-repellent sub-soil. Photos: CSIRO and SARDI: reproduced from Roper et al. 2021.

Photo B: Blue dye solution entered the soil via root pathways in the surface repellent layer, but below this layer water spread horizontally, more evenly wetting the non-repellent sub-soil. Photos: CSIRO and SARDI: reproduced from Roper et al. 2021.

Seeding next to the previous year’s crop row (near-row seeding), can increase grain yields on water-repellent soils.
That is the conclusion by a group of CSIRO scientists and State Government agricultural research officers, who held long-term field trials at four sites – near Moora, Pingrup and Calingiri in Western Australia and Wanilla in South Australia.
In earlier research, published by the CSIRO team in 2013, it was shown that the combination of no-till and stubble retention preserved old crop roots, which behaved as pathways for water infiltration into water-repellent soil, effectively by-passing repellent surface soil layers.
This led to the hypothesis that near-row sown crops would perform better than inter-row sown crops. Furthermore, some farmers experimenting with seeding position noticed yield advantages with near-row sown crops.
Hence, the field evaluation compared near-row sowing with inter-row sowing on water-repellent soils.
Near-row sowing (sometimes referred to as on-row sowing) is usually aligned within 2cm of the previous year’s crop row to avoid disturbing existing root pathways.
The key results showed significant increases in above-ground plant biomass accumulation (Moora) and grain yields (Moora and Wanilla) by near-row sowing compared with inter-row sowing, particularly under no-till and stubble retention.
But these differences were reduced after moderate or deep cultivation, which either buried repellent surface soils or disrupted root pathways.
At Calingiri and Pingrup, where near-row sowing had been practised for more than four years, and at Wanilla, soil water contents were higher in the crop row than the inter-row by up to four per cent, and this was associated with significantly reduced repellency (Calingiri and Pingrup) and larger communities of wax-degrading bacteria (Pingrup; the only site at which microbial communities were measured).
The paper’s conclusion was that near-row sowing may enhance crop production directly through improved water infiltration down old root pathways, and indirectly by reduced soil water repellency in crop/stubble rows.
The authors believe near-row sowing is potentially a low-cost management tool for enhanced crop production on water-repellent soils.
At the Moora site, where soils were severely repellent, near-row sown crops produced more crop biomass than inter-row sown crops throughout the growing season regardless of tillage practices which included no-tillage, moderate tillage (off-set disc) and deep tillage (spader).
This translated to significantly higher grain yields in near-sown crops than inter-row sown crops, except for the spaded treatment which yielded the same for both near-row and inter-row sown crops.
There were no differences among near-row sown treatments regardless of previous one-off tillage treatment. Near-row sowing under no-till yielded similarly to those sown near-row following tillage (off-set disc or spader) without the additional cost of the tillage treatments or the associated risks of erosion and loss of soil organic matter.
However, soils with extreme soil water repellency may require intense amelioration management, in the form of strategic (one-off) deep tillage or clay application to increase in-row plant and root system densities capable of channeling enough water down the soil profile to benefit near-row sown crops in the following season.
Furthermore, strategic deep tillage can overcome multiple soil constraints such as compaction and subsoil acidity through lime incorporation and improve subsoil fertility, in addition to overcoming topsoil water repellency.
Deep tillage should only be used as a one-off treatment to ameliorate significant soil constraints.
Repeated intense cultivation can significantly reduce soil organic matter by disrupting stable organic matter networks and promoting its decomposition by soil microorganisms.
Organic matter is important for crop productivity because it increases water holding capacity in soil and provides nutrients for soil microorganisms and for plant growth.
This was demonstrated previously by the CSIRO team in a 10-year field trial, on the South Coast of WA, which showed that low soil organic carbon and surface crop residue cover, caused by repeated cultivation and stubble burning, reduced soil water contents and grain yields.
Furthermore, rebuilding soil organic carbon and surface crop residue cover at the South Coast trial site, following the return to no-till and stubble retention, was extremely slow.
At the Wanilla site in South Australia, near-row sowing again produced significantly higher grain yields than inter-row sown crops. However, there was no effect of cultivation on yields at this site, probably because tillage intensity was very low compared with the Moora site.
Visual observations and soil measurements pointed to a hydrological explanation for the yield benefits seen under near-row sowing, and this was independent of the severity of repellency.
Similar to observations made by Roper et al. (2013), blue dye solutions, applied to the surface of soil at Wanilla, flowed down the soil profile through root channels, by-passing the surface repellent soil layer (Photo A) which was severely water repellent.
Once the solution reached the more wettable subsoil below, water moved horizontally, wetting up this layer more uniformly (Photo B).
These root pathways have been shown to persist well into the following season (Roper et al. 2013) and hence, have the potential to improve water availability to new crops sown in their vicinity.
Measurements of soil water contents in the crop rows compared with crop inter-rows supported this visual evidence.
Observations at Pingrup, indicated that soil water contents were consistently higher in crop rows than the inter-row (by up to 4%) and that this was associated with a progressive decline in the severity of repellency and an increase in the numbers of wax-degrading bacteria.
This implied that reductions in soil water repellency in the crop or stubble row were due, at least in part, to microbial decomposition of waxes responsible for water repellency.
These findings are supported by Gupta et al. (2018) who showed that microbial biomass and microbial diversity were significantly greater in the crop and stubble rows than in the inter-rows in sandy soils at two locations in South Australia.
The results of field trials reported in the near-row sowing paper support anecdotal evidence that the benefits for crop productivity on water repellent soils under the combination of no-till and stubble retention can be enhanced by seeding close to the previous season’s crop rows (near-row sowing) to take advantage of water infiltration down old root pathways which both promotes plant growth and stimulates populations of wax-degrading bacteria.
The paper’s authors were:
Margaret M. RoperA,* , Phil R. WardA, Giacomo BettiB,E, Stephen L. DaviesB , Nigel WilhelmC, Ramona KerrA, Shayne F. MicinA and Terry BlackerD
Author affiliations, A: CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Wembley, WA; B: Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Geraldton; C: South Australian Research and Development Institute, Urrbrae, SA; D: South Australian Research and Development Institute, Port Lincoln; E: CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Glen Osmond, SA.
The full publication can be accessed via the link:https://doi.org/10.1071/SR21142 and selecting the PDF button.

Soil health an agenda item

category: 
Soils
Ausplow recommends leading coulters on its DBS to remove any stubble that may affect seed germination.

Ausplow recommends leading coulters on its DBS to remove any stubble that may affect seed germination.

By JOHN RYAN AM

There’s an important context to the BioFurrow™ hypothesis of near-row sowing, which I have been discussing for many years.
And that is, soil health.
In a perfect world, to grow healthy crops with high hectolitre weight and high protein, the soil in which the plants are growing, must be aggregated with the presence of air and moisture and, most importantly, beneficial bacteria.
The starting point to achieve this, for broadacre cropping in Australia, I believe, has been the introduction of the DBS precision seeder to start the process of building healthy soils.
I designed the DBS, with the three-slot system, to create an ideal environment, initially for seed germination and then for healthy plant growth throughout the growing season. And this has been vindicated by the adoption of the DBS throughout Australia.
Ausplow is now the nation’s leading manufacturer of precision broadacre seeding bars.
In the early developmental stages of the DBS, the emphasis was on precision seed placement, while breaking hard pans, with the added benefit of water harvesting. This continues to be the case as we refine the DBS with subtle changes to improve its performance.
The key to establishing the optimum environment for the seed is the DBS three-slot system which provides the seed with moisture and air – the starting point to building soil structure.
And during the past 25 years, DBS owners report to us of positive structural changes to their soils.
So ideal soil environments are being created for growing crops but there remains limitations to the type of crop yields and quality we should be expecting from such soils.
I believe those limitations are directly correlated with soil biology, with research work done by our consultant Dr Margaret Roper opening the door to new thoughts on how to grow high-yielding and quality crops.
This has now become a major research and development focus for our company aligned with continued R&D involving the DBS and liquid-ready Multistream air seeder.
The genesis of this focus on soil is the near-row sowing BioFurrow™ hypothesis.
It is revolutionary because it focuses on soil biology as the main engine for crop growth with declining emphasis on synthetic fertilisers and chemicals.
It will be a process for farmers wanting to adopt the BioFurrow system, but the main tool already is being used, ie, the DBS.
My view is that conventional broadacre agriculture throughout the world is being challenged to a point where change must occur.
Firstly, farmers are being challenged with increasing costs not matched by increasing higher prices for their crops.
Secondly, United States farmers are perhaps the proverbial canary in the coal mine, as they battle with increasingly unhealthy soils which, ironically because of their quality, have masked the problems of dying soil biology, triggered by more than 70 years of synthetic nutrition and chemical applications and continued tillage, despite the growth of no-till and vertical till.
This subject has been an elephant in the room for agriculture for too long.
It is why I believe we all need to assess the need for change and whether to pay attention to a growing body of scientific work which in the past 10 years firmly points to soil biology as the way to go forward.

Science spotlights soil biology

category: 
Soils
Scientific research is showing soil biology can play a bigger role in producing healthy crops.

Scientific research is showing soil biology can play a bigger role in producing healthy crops.

It is interesting that science has been aware, for decades, of natural processes for producing healthy plants.
Yet little of the huge amount of scientific research that has been done on the subject, has impacted on agriculture – in terms of establishing healthy crops and pastures.
There has been little commercial enthusiasm for what we might call Mother Nature’s inherent mechanisms that can produce healthy crops and pastures, build soil carbon and mitigate fungal diseases and insect damage.
One example of these natural processes relates to plant inoculants protecting roots against diseases.
In the right soil environment, beneficial soil micro biota flourish naturally, providing all the benefits that are claimed by popular commercial inoculants.
The right soil environment can be described as soil with organic matter, structure, balanced soil pH, moisture and oxygen.
So, what about the studies that have found that the plant’s internal defences (such as insect and disease resistance) are significantly affected by the nutrition of the plant?
That domain has largely been left to commercial interests, plying synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides, all of which, ostensibly, have been made to keep plants healthy.
Ausplow consultant and former CSIRO scientist and microbiologist Dr Margaret Roper recently revealed research from laboratory experiments that have shown how naturally occurring soil microorganisms suppress crown rot in wheat.

While Dr Roper is keen to remind farmers that field trials are now needed to substantiate the research, Ausplow managing director John Ryan believes we are now moving into a science-led era that can also substantiate Ausplow’s BioFurrow™ hypothesis.
“If you look at what scientific research has revealed it presents a range of questions to me that has helped me in the design evolution of the DBS, leading to our hypothesis on the BioFurrow™,” John said.
The BioFurrow™ crop furrow concept is based on creation by the DBS system of a moist, aerated and nutrient-rich environment where microorganisms flourish and plants thrive.
According to John, the history of agriculture has proven the pitfalls of over-cultivating, low soil pH, loss of topsoil and, particularly in Western Australia’s wheatbelt, salinity.
“Farmers throughout the world have led the way in overcoming these challenges, to some extent, through minimum cultivation and soil renovation,” he said.
“But what science is now showing us through decades of work by researchers such as Dr Roper, is a bigger picture.
“Science is breaking through myopic views that our ‘conventional’ methods of crop and pasture establishment will stand the test of time.
“But nowhere have we evidence of such a fact.
“We do have evidence of ‘sugar hits’ through deep tillage, rotary hoeing, spading and mouldboard ploughing but I’ve never heard anybody talk about the longer-term residual benefits past five or six years.
“What I do know is that soil microbes have been around since before the start of agriculture.
“These soil microbes (or soil biota) physically contribute to soil structure and help build organic matter (by sequestering carbon), leading to healthy plants.
“Scientists have long despaired that our ‘conventional’ agricultural methods and inputs are killing these microbes.
“Hence the microbes don’t get much chance to show their wares.
“But when they do, they conclusively prove what scientists have been saying for decades and what recently, New South Wales farmer and DBS owner Greg Chappell, has revealed to us in his Ausfacts stories.
“Briefly, since 2008, Greg has been re-building his soil by increasing organic carbon content through things like mulching weeds, manuring and using a liquid potassium mix based on plant analysis.
“Crops and pastures really took off when he started using the DBS in 2017.
“When he started, paddock measurements were below one for organic carbon and now it’s around 3.5.
“With soil pH, measurements have gone from between 4.4 and 5.7 to between 5.9 and 7.1.
“He says he’s retaining organic carbon and this is increasing the water-holding capacity of the soil; he attributes these benefits to the positive contribution from soil microbes.
“His parting message in his story in the October 2018 edition of Ausfacts was:
‘Let’s give biology a go.’
“I can only encourage DBS owners to critically evaluate what they want to achieve with crop and pasture establishment and at least trial a bit of biology.
“Even if it’s only one run to establish, for example, a BioFurrow™ trial as a control, at least you’re on the road to meaningful comparisons.
“The DBS is only one tool, but I believe biology is the toolbox.
“Why not discover what other tools you can find in the toolbox?”

The role of inoculants with Mother Nature

category: 
Soils
Ausplow consultant and former CSIRO scientist and microbiologist Dr Margaret Roper says it is critical for plant health to build soil structure with the right soil environment, where beneficial soil micro biota populations flourish naturally, providing all the benefits that are claimed by inoculants.

Ausplow consultant and former CSIRO scientist and microbiologist Dr Margaret Roper says it is critical for plant health to build soil structure with the right soil environment, where beneficial soil micro biota populations flourish naturally, providing all the benefits that are claimed by inoculants.

Do we really need to use inoculants?
On face value your answer might be unequivocally, YES.
And you might back that up with another question: Aren’t inoculants, which are beneficial microorganisms, good for plant health and able to control pests and improve the quality of the soil?
Yes and no, says Ausplow consultant and former CSIRO scientist and microbiologist Dr Margaret Roper.
Yes, microorganisms are crucial for plant health, growth and improving the soil but, like natural soil biota, existing in the right environment is critical to their ‘performance’.
“If the soil is run down and low in organic matter, inoculants won’t work,” Dr Roper said. “And the same is true if soil pH is below 5.5pH.”
This quickly turns us full circle to the need to build soil structure and the right soil environment, which is Ausplow’s hypothesis of the BioFurrow™, more widely known as near-row sowing.
According to Dr Roper, in the right soil environment, beneficial soil micro biota populations flourish naturally, providing all the benefits that are claimed by inoculants. And it’s free. But these natural microbial populations may take time to develop.
The right soil environment can be described as soil with organic matter, structure, the right pH, moisture and oxygen.
“Arguably the most widely known natural inoculant is rhizobium in legumes which fix nitrogen,” Dr Roper said. “But these inoculants have the advantage of residing within a plant where they are protected from adverse environmental conditions and other microbial competitors. Such organisms are called ‘endophytes’ which means ‘inside-plants’.
“There are other soil microbes which can colonize plants as endophytes and these are likely to be the most successful inoculants. Inoculants that target the bulk soil, generally, have very poor survivability.
“Soil microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, protozoans (microscopic animals) and algae.
“One group of bacteria (actinobacteria) are very common in soils, survive well in our extreme WA soil environments and produce various bioactive agents including antibiotics, enzymes, and vitamins.”
In a good soil environment, collectively, there are between one and two tonnes a hectare of microbes in the top-soil with around 70 per cent in the top 10 centimetres, equating to more than 10 billion microbes in a kilogram of soil with literally kilometres of fungal hyphae.
Fungal hyphae spread like a network to capture mineral nutrients and in a highly complex symbiotic relationship, bacteria and fungi provide nutrients to plant roots while accessing food in the form of exudates from the roots.
A classic visual of this process is the ‘dreadlock’ roots you find on healthy plants.
According to Dr Roper, what science is now showing, through on-going trial research, is a better way to grow healthier crops and protect them from disease, by using microbial communities and root systems in the soil.
“This is not the conventional crop establishment we are witnessing in our era,” Dr Roper said.
“Ironically before World War Two farmers focused on what we now regard as ‘organic farming practices’ focusing on building organic matter which cycles nutrients for plant use and increases water-holding capacity. This encouraged plant roots to explore the soil profile to access nutrients rather than relying on localised fertilizer inputs.
“After the war, there was an excess of ammonium nitrate which had been used in the manufacture of bombs and this was sold to farmers to create a boon in crop production.
“Extensive use of nitrogen fertilizer results in rapid vegetative development of crops and increased yields.
“But the downside can be a deficiency of mineral nutrients because uptake of these mineral nutrients does not keep pace.
“And an unintended consequence of the over-use of nitrogen fertilizers has been acidification of soils world-wide.
“And the incidence of plant diseases has increased.
“Ideally we want plants to expend early energy in exploring the soil profile so they can associate with the soil micro biota and capture plant-available nutrients for healthier growth and better protection against diseases.”
Crops with balanced nutrition (of a range of mineral nutrients – not just nitrogen) will result in healthier crops and higher quality grains with great benefits for human and animal nutrition.”

Make money and build the soil

category: 
Soils
Organic matter is the building block of sustainable and profitable crop production.

Organic matter is the building block of sustainable and profitable crop production.

By JOHN RYAN AM
It is clearly evident the Federal Government wants soil carbon back on its agenda.
Recent comments by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that he wants to initiate a soil carbon capture scheme involving the agricultural industry are encouraging.
And it follows on from Ausplow’s efforts, relating to our BioFurrow™ hypothesis.
Farmers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of soil organic matter – otherwise known as soil carbon, which is essential for crop production.
And the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has also weighed in, citing that the world’s soils have become degraded, particularly as a result of chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation, etc.
So it is up to us to develop farming systems that nurture the soil and its components, including organic matter and microbial communities that drive soil health and function, and plant growth.
Ausplow’s R&D work is exploring how the BioFurrow™ (which is aligned with the DBS system of crop establishment) can be used to sequester carbon.
I can only assume many scientists are unaware of what agriculture has achieved over the past 25 years as witnessed by the stories of DBS owners, two of which are partly re-printed in this edition.
If scientists want ways to improve carbon sequestration, come and have a look at what DBS owners are achieving in Australia.
It was always my intention in designing the DBS to enable accurate seed placement while building the right soil environment for seedling growth and beneficial soil biota.
Soil biota is broadly defined as a group of microscopic life forms that include bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microscopic creatures which are critical for plant health.
And I have always maintained that using the DBS provides you with a tool to make money while building the soil.
That has been the experience with DBS owners.
First adoptees used to comment on the fact that they couldn’t fill dams because rain stayed where it fell, similar to Keyline Farming, invented by my uncle PA Yeomans in New South Wales.
Within five years owners were telling us the ground was softer and more friable and easier to work. This is what happens when organic matter levels build up in soil.
And it didn’t take long for owners to discover that the DBS was perfect for dry sowing and breaking hardpans to allow subsoil moisture to rise to the seedbed.
All of this remains true today but the evolution of the DBS has seen it as the perfect vehicle for BioFurrow™ farming, turning my ‘pot plant’ description into a ‘furrow for life’.
As DBS owners recognise - and hopefully scientists will start to understand - such a system will stop soil degradation and start soil recovery.
As this slowly occurs side benefits become readily apparent as some DBS owners already have experienced - elevated organic carbon levels, more normal soil pH, increased organic carbon and nitrogen levels, and healthier crops, pastures and livestock.
I am sure this would be music to the ears of scientists pleading for the adoption of “new approaches” to build and conserve our soils. I would encourage them to visit DBS owners and see what is already being accomplished.
For DBS owners I see the BioFurrow™ as the pathway to greater profits while maintaining soils that can sequester carbon.
DBS owners and NSW farmer Greg Chappell summed it up best: “Wouldn’t it be great if every farmer in Australia had a goal to lift organic carbon levels on their farms by one percent.”

Moisture, air, key to BioFurrow

category: 
Soils
This photograph clearly shows the importance of building soil structure to allow access to moisture and air. On the left is a typical ‘brick’ of compacted soil compared to a clod on the right showing roots moving at depth through aerated and structured soil. The latter is the type of result created by the DBS and clearly demonstrates the ‘pot plant’ analysis of how the DBS establishes the right environment for plant root growth.

This photograph clearly shows the importance of building soil structure to allow access to moisture and air. On the left is a typical ‘brick’ of compacted soil compared to a clod on the right showing roots moving at depth through aerated and structured soil. The latter is the type of result created by the DBS and clearly demonstrates the ‘pot plant’ analysis of how the DBS establishes the right environment for plant root growth.

Soil microbiology - in the presence of moisture and air - is the key to the BioFurrow™. That’s the opinion of former CSIRO scientist and microbiologist, Dr Margaret Roper. Dr Roper makes the point that there are between one and two tonnes a hectare of microbes in the top soil with around 70 per cent in the top 10 centimetres, equating to more than 10 billion microbes in a kilogram of soil with literally kilometres of fungal hyphae. Fungal hyphae spread like a network to capture nutrients and in a highly complex symbiotic relationship, bacteria and fungi provide nutrients to plant roots while accessing food in the form of exudates from the roots. A classic visual of this process is the ‘dreadlock’ roots you find on healthy plants, with soil and microbes adhering to roots. But conventional practices such as deep tillage, mouldboarding and spading, while deemed necessary for soil amelioration, can have a detrimental effect on drying out soils and thereby destroying microbial populations which thrive in moist conditions.

 

According to Dr Roper, what science is now showing, through trial research, is a better way to grow crops – by utilizing microbial communities and root systems in the soil. And that is the pith of explaining why the BioFurrow™ - we call the furrow for life – works to enhance this microbial activity for the benefit of plant roots and to aid in building organic carbon levels. The concept of the BioFurrow™ is not new and is often referred to as near-row sowing, with implement steering guidance. The difference with the BioFurrow™ is that the same row is used to seed crops every year rather than ‘nudging’ across the paddock to establish the next season’s rows. Interestingly Dr Roper’s research started 25 years ago and she is confident the hypothesis of the BioFurrow™ is now at a stage to trial over a range of moisture and soil conditions.

 

Dr Roper said the DBS sowing system, particularly, provided significant benefits for a developing seedling. “Firstly, the provision of liquid nutrients directly below the seed provides a source of water vapour for seed germination,” Dr Roper said. “The ‘precision seed bed’, created by the DBS closing tool to provide a firm and aerated base for the seed, contains fine capillaries through which water vapour (from the liquid nutrients) can rise to the seed and promote germination. “Scientific research also has presented evidence that water vapour is the primary source of water for seed germination in unsaturated soils. “This surprising result stems from the fact that although hydraulic conductivity decreases by several orders of magnitude as soil water content decreases, relative humidity within the soil remains near 100 per cent, as long as the soil water content is above wilting point.” Dr Roper also said the provision of liquid nutrients directly below the seed provided an immediate source of nutrients in available forms in close proximity to newly emerged roots. “And the soft-closing press wheel of the DBS covers the seed, creating a firm but not compacted indented surface which collects water and enables air exchange around the germinating seed,” Dr Roper said.

Let's start a conversation

category: 
Soils
Bencubbin farmer and Nuffield Scholar Nick Gillett said the BioFurrow™ “makes fundamental sense to build our soils and enhance water-holding capacity”.

Bencubbin farmer and Nuffield Scholar Nick Gillett said the BioFurrow™ “makes fundamental sense to build our soils and enhance water-holding capacity”.

By JOHN RYAN AM

 

Since announcing our BioFurrow™ story last year I have received a lot of positive feedback from DBS owners. And the most striking comment came from New South Wales farmer Greg Chappell, Glen Innes. “Wouldn’t it be great if every farmer in Australia had a goal to lift the organic carbon levels on their farms by one per cent,” Greg said. “Imagine the enormous impact that would have on the nation’s effort to sequester carbon and the increased respect it would have for agriculture.” I think Greg has hit the nail on the head and it is the reason, I think, we should start a conversation on the BioFurrow™.

 

Central to everything we have written thus far on the benefits of the BioFurrow™, is the ability to sequester carbon while improving our soils and farm profits. We are already planning our 2021 trial program at our Quairading Research and Development Centre and we also are excited about several DBS owners who are keen to be involved in trials on their own properties. As part of the conversation on the BioFurrow™ we also present the following comments from DBS owners:

 

Theo Cunningham, Cranbrook: We’ve been doing implement-steer near-row sowing for five years and this year we started trialling the BioFurrow™. Previously we had been nudging across the paddock and I thought why not stick to the same row so we did a trial paddock where we nudged left about two centimetres and didn’t disturb the stubble. There were no negatives and it made it easier for the air seeder driver using the shift on our guidance. We’ve kept a record of what we’ve done and for 2021 we’ll nudge right near the same row and I expect that from now on we’ll do it for our entire program. It just makes sense and I’m excited by the innovation which can employ the latest technologies. I think we’ll also see some cost efficiencies because we will be using less diesel and perhaps we won’t have to deep rip if we can maintain furrows for life. (Theo’s trial work this year was the inspiration for the Bio Furrow™).

Greg Chappell, Glenn Innes, NSW: I’ve always said it’s important to get the biology working and the BioFurrow™ will do just that. It makes a lot of sense, particularly providing a stable environment where we can have a crack at building our organic carbon levels. That’s the crux to improve our water-holding capacity for growing crops in our variable climates. Wouldn’t it be great if every farmer in Australia had a goal to lift the organic carbon levels on their farms by one per cent. Imagine the enormous impact that would have on the nation’s effort to sequester carbon and the increased respect it would have for agriculture.

Brendan Smart, Keith, SA: The BioFurrow™ makes irrefutable sense. Although we don’t have the guidance technology of implement steering to do it yet, I knew something was going on in the late 1990s when we were establishing crops with the DBS on the inter-row with no guidance. We were on 10 inch spacings and you could see every time we got closer to last year’s row, the crops were better. We still see that today and we have put it down to roots accessing more nutrients near the old row. But I 100 per cent agree with the BioFurrow™ concept.

Nick Gillett, Bencubbin, WA: I definitely agree we should start a conversation about this concept because it makes fundamental sense to build our soils and enhance water-holding capacity for our broadacre cropping systems. We have been inter-row sowing since 2003 with a sidearm marker but it was generally seeding freehand and we definitely noticed a positive to crop growth with plants closer the last year’s rows. Since 2005 we have been on RTK guidance and in years when conditions are right we will sow into the old rows chasing moisture where’s there’s not a great stubble load. In principle I support the work being done by Ausplow and I’m keen to do some trials.

Peter Alexander, Glenn Innes, NSW: I think the BioFurrow™ is just comment sense and it’s certainly the way to go for broadacre cropping. At the moment we’re trying to combat new country with the DBS and it’s not the sort of country that lends itself to precision guidance. But with our experience with the DBS and what it is achieving for us it is easy to understand why establishing a furrow for life would have a lot of benefits.

Jeff Edwards, Kweda, WA: We’ll definitely give it a go because it makes sense to us. It will cost us about $8000 to upgrade to RTK guidance and there’s a tower next to the farm so that will get us started. I’m excited that we’re now getting opportunities to build organic carbon with a lot more tools in the toolbox. It’s a big challenge but we’re up for a goal of lifting our organic carbon by one per cent. At the moment it ranges from 0.5 to two in the long term pasture paddocks.

 

One subject that came up with many DBS owners we spoke with related to stubble, particularly if it’s a wet season. Implement steering to a large extent should mitigate problems with stubble wrapping around tines but leading disc coulters will greatly assist by cutting old lateral plant roots to prevent bulldozing which can also lead to dragging in stubble into the tines. Those involved in near-row sowing know that while we’ve had several years of dry starts it’s only a matter of time before a decent wet start is experienced again.

In any event, please let me know of your experiences or ideas to continue our conversation. You can contact me at john@ausplow.com.au

Science shows a way for pathway for BioFurrow

category: 
Soils
Ausplow general manager Chris Farmer (left), Ausplow R & D Coordinator Dr Margaret Roper and Ausplow trial consultant Dave Seagreen pictured during trial establishment at Ausplow’s Research and Development Centre, Quairading, the site of on-going trials involving the BioFurrow crop establishment system.

Ausplow general manager Chris Farmer (left), Ausplow R & D Coordinator Dr Margaret Roper and Ausplow trial consultant Dave Seagreen pictured during trial establishment at Ausplow’s Research and Development Centre, Quairading, the site of on-going trials involving the BioFurrow crop establishment system.

Classic root 'dreadlocks' are a sign of a healthy plant in healthy soil.

Classic root 'dreadlocks' are a sign of a healthy plant in healthy soil.

Ausplow R & D Coordinator Dr Margaret Roper is a keen supporter of Ausplow’s BioFurrow.
According to Dr Roper, who is a former CSIRO scientist and microbiologist, the key to the BioFurrow™ is soil microbiology - in the presence of moisture – and air.
Dr Roper makes the point that there are between one and two tonnes a hectare of microbes in the top soil with around 70 per cent in the top 10 centimetres, equating to more than 10 billion microbes in a kilogram of soil with literally kilometres of fungal hyphae.
Fungal hyphae spread like a network to capture nutrients and in a highly complex symbiotic relationship, bacteria and fungi provide nutrients to plant roots while accessing food in the form of exudates from the roots.
A classic visual of this process is the ‘dreadlock’ roots you find on healthy plants, the layer of soil plus microbes adhering to roots, known as the rhizosphere.
According to Dr Roper, what science is now showing, through trial research, is a better way to grow crops – by utilizing microbial communities and root systems in the soil.
Plant roots, preserved by no-till, behave as pathways for water infiltration, particularly in water repellent soils, and support large and diverse microbial communities that supply nutrients to plants and contribute to soil health.
Dr Roper said the DBS sowing system also provided significant benefits for a developing seedling.
“Firstly, the provision of liquid nutrients directly below the seed provides a source of water vapour for seed germination,” Dr Roper said.
“The ‘precision seed bed’, created by the DBS closing tool to provide a firm and aerated base for the seed, contains fine capillaries through which water vapour (from the liquid nutrients) can rise to the seed and promote germination.
“Scientific research also has presented evidence that water vapour is the primary source of water for seed germination in unsaturated soils.
“This surprising result stems from the fact that although hydraulic conductivity decreases by several orders of magnitude as soil water content decreases, relative humidity within the soil remains near 100 per cent, as long as the soil water content is above wilting point.”
Dr Roper also said the provision of liquid nutrients directly below the seed provided an immediate source of nutrients in available forms in close proximity to newly emerged roots.
“And the soft-closing press wheel of the DBS covers the seed, creating a firm but not compacted indented surface which collects water and enables air exchange around the germinating seed,” Dr Roper said.

BioFurrow a furrow for life

category: 
Soils
Ausplow’s Biofurrow ™ hypothesis could see annual crop establishments achieved in the same furrow.

Ausplow’s Biofurrow ™ hypothesis could see annual crop establishments achieved in the same furrow.

(PART THREE OF A THREE PART SERIES) By JOHN RYAN AM,
It is nearing nearly three decades since I started the concept of the Deep Blade Sowing (DBS) system.
And apart from the usual improvements that come with any new system, the basic principles have remained the same.
But now I want to introduce an hypothesis which I believe could help DBS owners move forward on a new pathway.
I call it the BioFurrow™ system of crop establishment ... a furrow for life.
Basically, it a system that enhances what my uncle Percival Yeomans achieved with the Keyline Plan and the Yeoman’s plough (See April Ausfacts).
What Percival couldn’t achieve then, we can now, thanks to technological advances.
I’m talking about in-furrow liquid nutrient management and it’s the focus of our trial work at our Quairading Research and Development Centre.
You are very aware of my pot plant analogy of how the DBS works and I regard the BioFurrow™ as the ultimate broadacre pot plant and ideally suited to in-furrow liquid management.
Essentially it is near-row sowing which encourages plant roots to seek out moisture and nutrients, in the presence of air, by following old root pathways in the same furrow.
Employing guidance technology, it is possible to establish a left-side, right-side alternating sowing pattern each year.
In effect, each crop row can become a ‘furrow for life’ as it takes on similar characteristics you would find in market gardens, where moisture and air and bacteria combine to build fertile soils.
I am convinced the BioFurrow™ system can have application in market gardens too.
We see the benefits as:
1. Re-building and aerating soils, increasing organic carbon levels and elevating moisture-holding capacity, while moderating topsoil pH.
2. Greatly reducing, and in some soil types, eliminating the symptoms of non-wetting.
3. Greatly reducing wet-dry sowing scenarios which lead to staggered plant germinations.
4. Defacto soil amelioration through in-furrow nutrient inputs, eliminating costly conventional amelioration practices such as deep ripping, mould boarding and spading.
5. Enhanced moisture penetration in structure-building furrows, through greater mycorrhizal fungi growth.
6. Retention of beneficial bacteria not destroyed by cultivation.
7. Resultant presence of beneficial bacteria in the ‘pot plant’ rows may mitigate plant root diseases.
8. Less cost through tailored liquid nutrients (no fertiliser or other product spreading necessary) and less fuel due to less horsepower requirements in pulling the DBS seeding rig.
9. Side-to-side near-row sowing will also provide sufficient sub-soil shattering via DBS blades to act as a ‘furrow renovation’ each year, preventing soil-settling that can cause hardpans.
10. Establishing a defacto Keyline system that allows moisture to stay where it falls.
11. Possible frost mitigation through increased Brix readings in healthier plants.
12. Potential for lower seeding rates.
13. Greater competition against weeds
14. A more sustainable crop establishment system.
As with any new system, the initial object is to start with trials to make your own assessments.
Good luck for the rest of the season.

Low profile magic bullets in soil profile

category: 
Soils
Former CSIRO scientist and microbiologist Dr Margaret Roper says her research shows current soil amelioration cultivation practices are harming the soil microbial population responsible for building fertile soils.

Former CSIRO scientist and microbiologist Dr Margaret Roper says her research shows current soil amelioration cultivation practices are harming the soil microbial population responsible for building fertile soils.

Stubble removed and cultivated prior to seeding. The dye shows the pathways for water movement have been destroyed. Photo: Margaret Roper and Phil Ward, CSIRO.

Stubble removed and cultivated prior to seeding. The dye shows the pathways for water movement have been destroyed. Photo: Margaret Roper and Phil Ward, CSIRO.

Blue dye shows infiltration down new and old rows in a zero-tilled row. Photo: Margaret Roper and Phil Ward, CSIRO.

Blue dye shows infiltration down new and old rows in a zero-tilled row. Photo: Margaret Roper and Phil Ward, CSIRO.

By KEN WILSON
THERE are no magic bullets.
You have probably heard that ad nauseum in agriculture while encountering such problems as chemical resistance, low soil pH, plant diseases, et al.
As far as you’re concerned it’s a truism, based on self evidence.
But things are changing to a point where CSIRO and GRDC scientists and researchers are pointing to neglected ‘magic bullets’ that exist literally under your feet.
You know them as bacteria, fungi and small soil animals, otherwise referred to as soil microorganisms or soil microbes, which basically are the building blocks of fertile soil.
There are between one and two tonnes a hectare of microbes in the top soil with 70 per cent in the top 10 centimetres, providing more than 10 billion microbes in a kilogram of soil with literally kilometres of fungal hyphae.
The hyphae spreads like a network to capture nutrients and in a highly complex symbiotic relationship, provides these nutrients to plant roots while accessing food in the form of exudates from the roots.
A classic visual of this process is the ‘dreadlock’ roots you find on healthy plants.
What science is now showing, through trial research, is a better way to grow crops - better than what might be regarded as the game-changer for broadacre farming in the 1990s when no-till became the norm.
And better than the evolution from deep ripping (dating back to the late 1960s) to wholesale soil amelioration techniques which has seen ‘rediscoveries’ of the mouldboard plough and the one-way plough.
Today’s focus is on eliminating non-wetting soils, where possible to invert and bury weed seeds (mouldboarding) and mixing lime, clay and gypsum to elevate soil pH (at least in the top 10-20cm of the soil) and to create more water-holding capacity, through an improvement in soil structure.
Ironically, these cultivation solutions, which have given economic responses and on face value appear to be sensible management practices, also promote problems, ie, chiefly, upsetting or destroying fungal hyphae networks.
There is conjecture about how soil microbes and organic matter are affected by technology.
But former CSIRO scientist and microbiologist Dr Margaret Roper is in no doubt, on the back of more than a decade of trials, that cultivation practices can reduce organic matter and water-holding capacity in WA’s water-repellent sandy soils.
“We have consistently found in trials over the years that cultivation (and stubble burning) will result in the loss of organic matter in the soil,” Dr Roper said.
In 2008, Dr Roper was involved in a trial program at Munglinup and after four years of measuring organic matter in ‘district practice’ plots (cultivation and stubble burning), a noticeable depletion in organic matter levels occurred in the top soil down to 10cm, compared with no-till plots.
“It happened quite quickly from 2009 onwards,” Dr Roper said. “It was so consistent that we stopped the burning in 2011 but we retained the plots in our overall trial program.
“From 2012 to 2017 we returned all plots to no-till and stubble retention.
“After six years, the plots that were previously burned and cultivated in the first four years of the trial, showed little or no recovery in terms of organic matter levels, water-holding capacity and crop yields, when compared with the plots which had been under no-till and stubble-retention from the beginning of the trial.
“It can really take a long time for the soil to recover from burning stubbles.”
According to Dr Roper, there is world research that shows if you create an environment that increases organic matter, you can achieve a significant increase in available water-holding capacity, and this can be more pronounced in sandier soils.
The problem is getting to that level of soil fertility. It’s not a quick fix.
Understanding how long it takes to restore soil to its optimum fertility remains elusive.
And in an economic environment where every paddock must make money, it’s problematic that any paradigm shift, alluded to here, will occur, particularly with farmers cropping in sandy soils.
But Dr Roper points to trials involving near-row sowing in South Australia and WA which have shown promise.
“At this stage it remains a hypothesis because of the lack of long term trial data,” Dr Roper said. “But initial work I have been involved with for more than a decade does point to a range of benefits.
“Near-row sowing implies establishing crops close to the previous year’s crop rows where there is a high likelihood of moisture, which new roots gravitate towards and establish in old root pathways.
‘It is in this environment, where moisture is present, that beneficial soil microbes populate, including wax-degrading bacteria (eliminating non-wetting).
“And compared to the non-wetting inter-row, the microbial population is far greater than that in the inter-row by a factor of 10.”
It follows that a soil that hasn’t been dried out by cultivation, has the potential to build carbon levels to create more water-holding capacity and increase soil fertility leading to healthier crop plants with high yield potential.
The obvious question is how sustainable is planting in virtually the same row year after year, which can induce plant root diseases.
According to Dr Roper the sheer population of beneficial microbes can play a positive role in suppressing diseases, with trials already showing suppression of crown root rot in cereals.
And the bonus of maintaining the same planting rows, creates a hostile, dry (from non-wetting) inter-row where weeds will struggle to grow.
Additionally, with growing soil fertility implying structured soil, there may be no need for the costly type of deep ripping, spading or mouldboarding.
“I believe near-row crop establishment is the closest thing yet to sustainability,” Dr Roper said.
And she believes there is more to come from research efforts, particularly related to in-furrow liquid nutrient applications.
Currently Dr Roper is working with Ausplow Farming Systems on a trial program at Quairading specifically assessing the attributes of in-furrow liquid nutrient applications.
“We could be on the cusp of something really exciting but it is still early days,” she said.
(Published in Farm Weekly, September 3, 2020 and used with kind permission).

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