Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 065 November-December 2006 - North
NOVEMBER -- DECEMBER 2006 GROUND COVER 9 Farm management WITNESSING A REVOLUTION Putting aside for the moment a year that many growers will be glad to consign to history, Parkes grower Ron Swansbra says he still enjoys farming, perhaps more than ever: “I’m 52 years of age and starting to realise just how much there is to be learned from modern cropping technology. ” Ron’s quiet enthusiasm stems from the gains he has been seeing unfold as his land is converted from conventional tillage practices to no-till, and the positive balance sheet responses to auto-steer, GPS guidance, yield maps, a better understanding of disc row spacing and seed placement accuracy, and the value of dry-seeding to buy time. This year Ron used for the first time the latest John Deere 1890 disc-seeder on 5000 hectares of stubble, which he describes as the final step to true no-till: “I’m down to 2.5 to three litres of fuel per hectare and covering up to 19 hectares an hour. The most difficult task is staying awake because I’m not even steering the tractor any more. ” Although full no-till is still only used by a minority of growers in his area in central-west NSW, he says the hard run of dry seasons has demonstrated the system’s worth; particularly for improved water infiltration and retention. “If necessary I can drill down about 8cm to reach moisture. I did this in the 2002-03 drought and got a reasonable crop with low screenings.” Changes made to the way Ron’s land is cropped originated with a program called Opti-Crop introduced to him by Dr Bill Brown, a director of Aurora, and his agronomist, Steve Todd from Agronomy Plus. It was through this relationship that Ron decided to lease his farm to Aurora. He is now a contractor for Aurora. This has allowed him to keep doing what he loves – farming – and to join the technological revolution in cropping that he didn’t feel he could do on his own. “I think this is going to be a trend. I have two sons, neither of whom want to farm, but I’m not ready to retire or to sell. I’ve been on this farm all my life, so leasing the land has allowed me to keep doing the work that gives me pleasure.” Ron Swansbra: excited by the opportunities unfolding in the way he farms his land. Below, the set-up inside his tractor cab. Where possible all of Aurora's crops are sown with a disc seeder. “But wherever we are able to persist with discs we are definitely getting less weed pressure. No-till means we are not bringing buried weed seeds to the surface, so over time we expect our herbicide costs will decrease significantly.” Daryle Strahley says rotations are crucial to making dry-sowing work. “You have to be extremely disciplined and not be tempted by price movements. Crop rotations must be a long-term strategy. There’s nothing new in saying this; it’s just having the discipline to stick to your plan. Unfortunately, for a lot of people it’s the bank manager who decides what you grow, and this makes it hard.” Across the Aurora properties, Mr Strahley says common observations can now be made where no-till has been practised for several years. He says the soils are softer and easier to work, and they hold the summer rain. Fuel costs are also much lower. The area manager for the Parkes- Forbes districts, Greg Paul, says rotations there include cereals, canola, field peas, and mustard and the company is looking at introducing chickpeas. “This year we dry-sowed all crops, which germinated well after the first rain. Dry sowing has become our preferred approach, but it does increase the management load because it takes glyphosate out of the equation. The management of your rotations becomes critical, given the need to control volunteers that emerge when it rains. For example, while wheat into canola is not an issue, wheat into barley is a problem because they are too hard to separate.” Almost all of Aurora’s staff have either farming or agronomy backgrounds and Mr Strahley says that despite the corporate structure, everyone has a passion for farming: “Our performance criteria are based around agronomy, and we all take a lot of pride in what we are doing because we are taking grain growing to a new level.” More information: James Keen, Aurora Agriculture, 02 6752 7544 JAMES KEEN ON THE 2006 SEASON Frustrating is the best way to describe 2006 as we had an excellent start, funda- mentally influenced by our farming practices where no-till gave us early planting opportuni- ties and excellent plant stands. The season has varied across the east coast and is at a critical time (first week of October) where decision making is imperative to maximise this year’s returns and to make sure that we are thinking of the future and setting the country up well for the 2007 cropping sea- son. We must look ahead to the opportuni- ties on offer because this industry has a very bright future.
Ground Cover 064 September-October 2006 - North
Ground Cover 066 January-February 2007 - North