Break crops in retained stubble systems

Growing break crops and retaining stubble are two practices known to improve soil health and nutrient cycling in broadacre cropping systems.

However, when stubble loads are heavy, management issues can result that can effect profitability. This is particularly so for growers in high rainfall and irrigated regions where heavy crop residues can exacerbate pest, weed and disease risks and hinder sowing the following season.

The ‘maintaining profitable farming systems with retained stubble in Victoria and Tasmania’ project is investigating ways growers can manage break crops in retained stubble systems without compromising whole farm profitability.

Understanding that the opportunities and challenges that come with growing break crops in a retained stubble system can be region specific, the project is being undertaken as a collaborative effort involving Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) in the Wimmera and Mallee, Southern Farming Systems (SFS) in the south west of Victoria and Tasmania, Irrigated Cropping Council (ICC) in the Murray Mallee and the Victorian No Till Farmers Association (VNTFA) which encompasses Victorian cropping regions.

While this project does not conclude until 2017, early research findings are promising.

With appropriate rotations, developments in machinery and the strategic management of specific break crops (including row spacing, harvesting, nutrition management, weed control and crop end-use), growers and researchers are finding that stubble can be retained without any major impediment to subsequent sowing efficiency or the productivity and profitability of the paddock.

According to Western District farmer and VNTFA member Troy Missen, the availability of improved technology such as machinery with auto-steer that allows inter-row sowing into heavy residue means growers are no longer forced into burning stubble to plant their crops.

“I know we can go in and sow into pretty heavy residue due to the machinery and equipment that’s currently available,” he said.

“Through our improved practices we’ve gained a lot more control over what we’re doing and we know exactly what’s needed for every individual paddock.”

The impact of break crops on stubble retention is one of 17 key areas being examined through this project.

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The stubble project – maintaining profitable farming systems in Victoria and Tasmania with retained stubble (project number BWD00024) is funded by the GRDC.

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