IMAGE: The Northern Sustainable Soils Group discussing soil amelioration, controlled traffic and farming systems with Trevor Symes, Clint Della Bosca and Luke Clarke.
In the last week of August 2023, ACTFA led a GRDC-funded grower and advisor study tour around South Australia. In this unique study tour, ACTFA board member Luke Clark, a grower from Jamestown, SA, took two Western Australian growers Trevor Symes (Bolgart) and Clint Della Bosca (Southern Cross), on a tour around the Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas and the mid-north to visit a range of farmers and grower groups. During the week the trio shared their practical experiences and knowledge of soil amelioration and controlled traffic farming with about 200 growers and consultants.
Western Australian growers have long experience in applying soil amelioration practices and adapting their agronomy and farm management practices to capitalise on the increased yield potential. In contrast, soil amelioration is in the early adoption stage in SA. The process can require significant investment and is not always smooth sailing, with problems such as poor crop establishment post-amelioration. An opportunity was identified through the ACTFA network for WA growers to share their soil amelioration and controlled traffic experiences to help SA growers improve the success of their investment in soil amelioration. This was a reverse study tour in that rather than bringing a group of growers to a few grower experts, the tour took the experts to the region seeking information on how to better manage ameliorated soils.
As well as reducing the cost, this approach exposed the information to a wider group of growers who may not have the opportunity to travel to WA. It was an advantage having the WA growers share their experiences and knowledge on-farm in SA so they could help interpret how their practices might apply in different soils and climates. The interactive nature of the tour made learning a two-way street that has increased awareness for SA growers of how to successfully implement and manage soil amelioration; and challenged the WA growers to investigate agronomic approaches to reach higher yield potentials after soil amelioration through the use of strategies such as deep nitrogen management, lentils/legumes/pulses in the rotation and stubble management.
Information exchange occurred through a combination of presentations, where the three travelling growers shared their experiences, and on-farm visits to trials or points of interest to ‘kick the dirt and tyres’ in a “listen, look, feel approach”.
Key messages imparted by the WA visitors were to know what is under the soil before you ameliorate, choose the right machine for the job and minimise re-compaction afterwards by implementing a CTF system.
Many of the growers and agronomists who participated in the meetings and field visits are leaders in their districts who will extend the learnings beyond those who attended.
Recommendations based on tour findings for both SA and WA are:
- A reply tour of SA growers to WA to see the situations explained by Trevor and Clint, reinforce learnings and further develop the knowledge-sharing network.
- Increase knowledge and skills of growers in SA to implement controlled traffic farming to minimise the impact of machinery compaction, protect their investment in soil amelioration and improve input efficiency.
- Investigate the opportunities for matching fertiliser inputs to post-amelioration yield potential in WA with deep nitrogen (N) testing and trace element applications.
- Research and develop pulse/legume agronomy, disease management and markets in WA to determine if a wheat/canola/bean style rotation can be achieved, thereby enabling the use of the strip and disc system (as used in SA) to maximise soil moisture, manage high stubble loads and provide organic nutrient supply (N) to reduce reliance on inorganic sources.
Thank you very much to GRDC for funding the tour and to the Northern Sustainable Soils Group, Buckleboo Farm Improvement Group and Pringles Crouch (John Deere dealer, Cummins, SA) for hosting the group at various locations. Please contact one of the ACTFA board members (actfa.net) if you have any suggestions for grower-to-grower learning tours in the future.