Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 062 June-July 2006 - North
individual advantages, there was a public role in encouraging greater adoption of no-till because soil erosion and degradation affects the whole community. Surveys indicate the average no-till adoption rate in central and northern NSW and Queensland is about 50 per cent – but this varies from 80 per cent in some areas to lower than 20 per cent in others. Of those who don’t practice no-till, many generally practice some form of reduced tillage, but this commonly includes burning crop residues and/or one or more cultivations plus use-planting methods that result in full soil disturbance. Grower Anne Williams, from ‘Magomadine’ near Coonamble, told the conference of her and husband Ray’s switch to no-till in 1996 following the 1994 drought when crops failed and wind erosion was devastating. Since the change, Anne said they had consistently achieved higher yields (including crops in the 2002 drought) and greater profit from their 1400-hectare property. The couple have also noted a big improvement in organic matter and soil fertility, allowing the adoption of rotations using chickpeas, linseed and safflower. Anne said stubble was retained, and reliable and accurate seeding equipment (a ‘Groundhound’ planter) was used. Neil Barwick of ‘Yarrabah’, Willow Tree, NSW, told of his family’s full conversion to no-till in 1990, although the family had stopped burning in 1970 and had been progressively adopting conservation farming methods since that time. Since converting to full no-till, the Barwicks have achieved large wheat and GROWER GROUPS THE WAY TO GO BY MELISSA BRANAGH n Greater cooperation between researchers and grower groups could improve Australian farming practices and enrich rural communities, according to prominent agricultural scientist Dr Peter Carberry. Dr Carberry, from CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, says proactive grower groups have the potential to significantly benefit agricultural research and its on-farm delivery. He says an increasing number of growers are joining proactive, coordinated groups with the explicit aim of undertaking organised validation of research into their respective farming systems. “It can be argued that traditional R&D, and farmer-driven R&D, fall short of addressing key industry issues,” Dr Carberry says. “Institution-based inquiry is often accused of irrelevance, while farmer-led research is criticised for its [inadequate] depth of inquiry.” However, Dr Carberry says ongoing recognition of grower involvement in the collective R&D effort in Australia will open the door to improved understanding, improved farming practices and community enrichment. Dr Carberry has extensive experience working with farming groups throughout Australia on projects coordinated through the GRDC investment portfolio. “Successful engagement has resulted in grower groups adapting research knowledge and extending it to their members and the wider farming community,” he says. “This broader, more relevant application of research findings increases the potential for improved farming practices to be adopted faster and significantly improved return on investment.” No-till/Grower groups GROUND COVER JUNE -- JULY 2006 12 Conference airs no-till quest n There seems to be no shortage of examples of how changing from cultivation and full soil disturbance farming to no-till farming has resulted in greater profits, better soil, near elimination of soil loss and more time for leisure or other activities.Yet for all this, the uptake of no-till cropping is patchy, prompting a concerted effort by leading growers and researchers to help others to better understand and adopt the technology. At a specially convened conference at Tamworth in March, the message was consistent: benefits are significant and problems are surmountable. No-till cropping is defined as retaining stubble soil cover, controlling weeds with herbicides, no cultivation and sowing with minimal soil disturbance. Most advocate the use of press wheels, and fertiliser is commonly applied by a separate entry point slightly below and to the side of seed placement. Controlled traffic of all operations is increasing in popularity, although many acknowledge difficulties with harvesting. The Tamworth conference, supported by the GRDC and organised by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), explored ways to improve the adoption of no-till farming. Dr Bob Martin, NSW DPI research leader northern farming systems and director of the Tamworth Agricultural Research Institute, said that while excellent research into improved crop soil management had been happening for 30 years, it was important to re-evaluate how best to proceed with future research and extension particularly in areas where the adoption rates are low. He said that while better farming practices were an individual choice, with barley yield increases (average sorghum yield is up 63 per cent). Neil said wheat often reached seven tonnes per hectare and sorghum more than 10t/ha. He said more crops were now grown because they could be sown according to soil moisture levels rather than defined rotations. Organic matter has increased, ponding ceased, profits risen and leisure time has dramatically improved. District agronomist Greg Brooke spoke of the success of no-till in the commonly hard-setting red soils in the western NSW district of Nyngan. While Nyngan has been regarded as a marginal cropping area – with crop failures common and soil degradation and erosion as a consequence of cultivation – he said no-till had consistently improved yields and soil quality. However, growers and researchers alike agreed that no-till had its problems, and more research is needed into: n straw clearance; n sowing configuration and planting equipment design to suit difficult soils; n controlling difficult weeds; n rotations and other practices to avoid disease; n deepening and sometimes moving wheel tracks with controlled traffic; and n weed resistance to herbicides. But the consensus was that these were issues that could be overcome and that they should not be used as an excuse to avoid no-till. The point was reinforced at a follow-up field day on Ambrose and Lisa Doolan’s property ‘Toorawandi’ near Coonabarabran. The field day addressed impediments to adoption of no-till, in particular mixed farming properties where livestock are the dominant enterprise. ‘Toorawandi’ has a 440-cow breeding enterprise and an annual cropping area of about 500ha, with several cereal crops grown as dual purpose grazing and grain. Soils are variable and include hard-setting red loams. Ambrose Doolan said they successfully no-tilled because they took care to maintain stubble groundcover, controlled weeds on time, used rotations involving canola, pulses and occasionally crops such as linseed and, most importantly, used quality planting equipment that ensured accurate seed and fertiliser placement. The Doolan’s purchased a Seed Hawk planter two years ago and it has been able to handle all their conditions. Previously, they had used modified conventional equipment, but a planter that could handle all conditions meant fewer and faster adjustments. One conference outcome was the formation of a committee to develop a more inclusive and coordinated approach to helping growers adopt no-till. It was recognised that some growers have legitimate reasons for baulking at changing, but with the help of other farmers and extension and research people it was felt that more conventional growers would be able to access – and adopt – appropriate knowledge suitable to their properties. The committee is to also look at further research areas, such as quantifying the impact of no-till on soil fertility, and no-till in mixed farming paddocks. More information: Dr Bob Martin, 02 6763 1258, firstname.lastname@example.org Conventional tillage operations, including stubble burning, are seen as an obstacle to profitable grain growing by no-till practitioners. Bob Freebairn reports on the Tamworth No-Till Farming conference, where researchers, industry representatives and growers sought to find an answer to the stalled uptake of no-till cropping Dr Peter Carberry: grower group involvement in the R&D effort.
Ground Cover 063 August 2006 - North
Ground Cover 061 April-May 2006 - North