CQ crops benefit from zero till
Although the Central Queensland winter season has been particularly dry, the harvest of wheat and chickpea crops has provided some interesting insights into the impact of management decisions on crop performance.
It is in dry seasons that the benefits of zero-tillage are most evident, and when some real profitability gains can be achieved.
This season is one such case. I was shown an interesting comparison recently in the Gindie district that illustrates this point.
One open downs soil paddock that had been zero-tilled into wheat was approaching harvest and expected to yield about 1.8-2 tonnes/hectare.
Alongside it, a paddock with the same cropping history but which was cultivated twice during the fallow, had a wheat crop likely to yield less than half the zero-tilled paddock.
The performance of this season's zero-tilled chickpea crops is even more remarkable. There are crops throughout the area this season that are expected to yield 1.5-1.8t/ha, and many of them have had little or no useful in-crop rain.
Although the region's average wheat and chickpea yields will be down on last year's good performance, there are nevertheless many zero-tilled crops that have done exceptionally well in the dry conditions. Unfortunately, however, many opportunities to grow profitable crops were missed because tillage during the fallow resulted in excessive moisture loss, or zero-till planting equipment was not available. The double whammy this season is that with good wheat prices and excellent chickpea prices, profitability will in some cases be similar to what we might expect in better seasons when prices are usually lower. Being able to maintain production and profitability through a wide range of seasons, and especially in dry seasons when there is often a price advantage, is what zero-till farming is all about.
Zero-till farming has many benefits, but there are two that are probably the most important, and which have contributed in no small way to the success of this year's winter crops. Firstly, you have more stubble cover on the soil, which means less run-off, improved fallow efficiency and wetter soil profiles by planting time. Secondly, zero-till planting equipment is more robust, and allows you to take more planting opportunities and plant at the right time.
Admittedly, new zero-till planting machines are expensive, and even modifications or adaptation of existing machines can be costly.