Stubble study tour: a successful initiative

Stubble study tour group with presenter Jack Desbiolles (Uni SA)

Stubble study tour group with presenter Jack Desbiolles (Uni SA)

Farmers who took part in the GRDC stubble project study tour gained valuable insights into strategies and practices that will improve their ability to retain stubble, benefiting the sustainability of their farm businesses.

The group, which included farmers and agronomists from the Mallee, Wimmera and Western Districts, spent three days travelling from Inverleigh, through the South West and Wimmera to Coonooer West.

The trip commenced in Geelong with a tour of Little Creatures Brewery in Geelong. Brewery ambassador Matt Burns led the group through the facility, discussing the process their barley went through to become beer.

As well as gaining understanding about the brewing process, and having the chance to sample some locally brewed beer, the brewery visit gave tour participants the chance to get to know one another.

The brewing process explained by Matt Burns at Little Creatures, Geelong.

The brewing process explained by Matt Burns at Little Creatures, Geelong.

That evening the tour group were joined by SFS members at the iconic Inverleigh Hotel. Here project leader Claire Browne (BCG) and researcher Paul Breust (SFS) presented the project objectives and findings so far. An excellent discussion about stubble retention, the challenges and the pay offs, ensured.

Bright and early on Day 2 of the tour, the group met at the SFS seeder demonstration site at Inverleigh. While there were no obvious visual differences between the crops sown with the 16 different machines, the Boss seeder seemed to be the crowd favourite.

SFS seeder demo site at Inverleigh

SFS seeder demo site at Inverleigh

Visits to the farms of no-till advocates Troy Missen at Rokewood and Scott Blurton at Streatham motivated some interesting and open conversations with tour group farmers relishing in a ‘look over the fence’ or, more to the point, a ‘peak inside the machinery shed’.

These farm visits were a highlight of the tour with the HRZ farmers generously sharing their experiences and giving an honest account of the challenges they faced including slugs, weeds and blockages at sowing.

“It’s bloody hard to retain stubble here,” Troy Missen said.

However, Troy said he believed that the benefits that came with retaining stubble (namely improved soil health and soil water retention) outweighed the challenges.

“We have to be strategic about our rotations because we can’t use trifluralin with a disc system,” Scott Blurton said.

“We clean up weeds in our legume and hay phase.”

Troy concurred, citing spray-topping as an important weed control strategy.

“In terms of weed control we see what we do at the end of the season as more important than what happens at the beginning,” he said.

To combat slugs, both Scott and Troy had adopted earlier sowing (April) to give crops an opportunity to establish before slugs were at their peak (late May and early June).

“We try to sow when there is enough soil moisture for germination, but before the season break,” Troy said.

To this end, Scott included winter-type wheat and canola in his rotation.

IMG_0968

January sown canola at Inverleigh.

Arriving in Horsham that evening, the group was met by UniSA agricultural research engineer, Dr Jack Desbiolles.

Over dinner at Horsham’s Duck’s Nuts restaurant Dr Desbiolles discussed some of the latest research to come out of UniSA’s agricultural machinery research and design centre.

As far as no-till seeding technologies went, Dr Desbiolles’ key messages were:

  • Superior seeding systems for the Mallee include paired row and independent seed boot seeding systems.
  • Risk of crop damage from pre-emergent herbicides with single disc seeders are lowered with the use of row cleaners and by careful herbicide selection.
  • In-furrow banding of liquid fungicide can significantly reduce grain yield penalties associated with rhizoctonia root rot.
  • Bentleg openers offer unprecedented potential for high speed, low soil throw tyne seeding.
Tips for effective inter-row sowing from Dr Jack Desbiolles

Tips for effective inter-row sowing from Dr Jack Desbiolles

A breakfast presentation by Tylers Hardware and Rural Supplies agronomist and VNTFA member Ben Cordes set the scene for Day 3 of the stubble trip.

With a focus on residue management, Ben stressed the need for even residue spread at harvest, thus avoiding problems at sowing time.

The take home message was that crop residue management starts at harvest.

Ben Cordes - take home messages

Ben Cordes – take home messages

The BCG research site at Kalkee was the next port of call. Here the group saw research in practice, with BCG researcher Jessica Lemon showcasing the field trials investigating row spacings, stubble management and the influence of varied fertiliser regimes.

Dr Desbiolles continued the row spacing conversation with an overview of the range of tyne set-ups commonly used by farmers operating stubble retained systems.

According to Dr Desbiolles, wider row spacings made stubble retention easier. To overcome issues with weed competition and potential yield loss, he said one option was to adopt a paired row configuration.

The Victorian No-Till Farmers Association president Paul Oxbrow hosted the tour group at his Rupanyup South farm for lunch. Paul is currently in the process of transitioning from a tyne seeding system to a disc system.

Paul said, despite initial concerns about weed control, he was convinced a disc system which minimised soil disturbance, would improve the health of his soil and the sustainability of his land.

Paul is also investigating the use of cover crops and how they influence soil water-holding capacity and soil health. Over a barbecue lunch and refreshments, an interesting conversation ensued.

IMG_4290

Farmers check out the disc seeder being used at Paul Oxbrows farm.

The last stop on the GRDC stubble project grower trip was Tpos fabrications at Coonooer West.

The Posthlewaite brothers, Trevor and Neil, have been following a retained stubble, no-till farming system since 1983 and credit the practice for improving productivity on their farm.

According to Neil, stubble retention has allowed them to continuously crop, delivering an extra 50mm of  moisture to the soil profile, with a further 25mm coming as a result of controlled traffic farming. This is measured by soil moisture tubes on the farm.

As problems have arisen within their farming system, Trevor and Neil have tackled them by adopting innovation and drawing on their engineering and design skills.

An example of their ingenuity was exhibited at the recent Mallee Machinery Field Days where they showcased their recently patented controlled traffic wheel track renovator.

They have also adopted 14″ row spacings, using paired row configurations for their pulses. This allows them to use a shielded sprayer during the season to control in-crop weeds.

Posthlewaites wheel track renovator.

Posthlewaites wheel track renovator.

Feedback from farmers who took part in the GRDC stubble project grower trip was overwhelmingly positive.

“I picked up some ideas which will help me to refine some issues I have and hopefully overcome them (harvest straw spread width, machine speed issues),” was the comment from one farmer.

Another said they picked up valuable tips on slug control options, nitrogen mapping, seeder configurations and paddock system configuration. “It is good to have all these research trials going so hopefully we will learn something later on,” she said.

The GRDC stubble project grower trip was organised by BCG, with SFS, ICC and VNTFA, as part of the GRDC funded Maintaining Profitable Farming Systems with Retained Stubble initiative (project No. BWD00024).

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About BCG

Birchip Cropping Group Inc. (BCG) is a not-for-profit agricultural research and extension organisation led by farmers in the Victorian Wimmera and Mallee.
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