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Farming for the future: improving operational efficiencies

By: Keith Harris
08 August, 2014

There has been a seismic shift in farming practices over the past 20 years driven by our desire to better manage soil, preserve and utilise soil moisture, improve operational efficiencies and boost crop production.

These changes have certainly delivered many benefits but they have also fostered new challenges particularly in the areas of weed, disease and soil nutrition management.

It's become imperative that we view our farming system as a whole and avoid making decisions in isolation as those decisions can have enormous implications for subsequent crops and the longer term health of our soils.

Improving the ecology, structure and productivity of our soils is an important consideration within the farming system at Windy Station.

Feedlot manure

The use of feedlot manure has been a strategic part of achieving that goal by helping replace essential plant nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus as well as trace elements such as zinc while adding organic matter to the soil. Organic matter helps improve the retention of moisture and nutrients in the soil and is a key part of maintaining optimal crop productivity over the longer term.

Manure is used in conjunction with a more traditional fertiliser program and is applied on a rotational basis to one third of the farming country each year.

Soil testing of paddocks is routinely undertaken to ensure that any fertiliser program, including manure application is correctly targeted and maintains an optimal nutrient balance.

Being located nearby the Caroona and Killara beef cattle feedlots makes manure a cost-effective and easy-to-source option for us and will continue to be a key part of maintaining soil health and structure in Windy Station's cultivation country.

Response to challenges

Our farming approach and practices are continuing to evolve in response to challenges – our year-on-year cropping rotation is in the process of moving to a dryland wheat – cotton - sorghum program to improve stubble-borne disease and weed management.

Incorporating a strategic tillage within that rotation, ideally once every four years, will be imperative for effective weed management and as a means of managing resistance issues in the long term as well as managing stubble borne pathogen incidences.

The ability to incorporate the manure as part of that strategic tillage program is likely to be beneficial, particularly in relation to the availability of phosphorus.

Vigilant monitoring of crops and fallow country as well as regular soil testing will continue to form the basis of our future agronomic and farming practice decisions - what we can measure, we can manage and our soils, crops and profitability will be all the better for it.

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