Case study: Geoff Chase, Tottenham NSW – Inter-row sowing in a stubble retained farming system.
Property: “Waitara” 7500 ha, 15km north of Tottenham.
Enterprises: Angus cattle stud and commercial herd, wheat, chickpeas, faba beans, lucerne hay, fodder (which is brown manured for fallow as well as grazing).
Soil type and pH: Self cracking grey clay soils with a pH of 7.8 – 8.
Geoff manages the cropping enterprises on “Waitara” while his son and daughter in law manage to Angus stud and cattle operation. The cattle are allowed to briefly graze stubbles providing the top 100 cm of soil is dry. He finds it helps to control surviving weed seed and in years of heavy stubble load can break up and spread the straw for the following crop, although he prefers standing stubble in most years.
Paddocks are rarely cultivated, on average once every eight years or so to regenerate paddocks and allow for incorporation of pre-emergent spray.
In the past couple of years Geoff has moved away from canola in favour of faba beans as break crop, for better nitrogen fixation and soil friability, though his core crop is wheat.
He has sown more chickpeas than usual this year due to the strong prices.
Geoff runs a controlled farming system with everything on three metres apart from chaser bins.
Issues and observations of inter-row sowing:
Geoff began inter-row sowing about eight years ago. In the early days he was able to accurately sow about 85% of crop between the rows of the previous crop and immediately saw the advantages of doing so.
One advantage he quickly realised was that sowing between the rows of stubble proved easier on the machinery and used less fuel. Another was the more accurate placement of seed with no stubble to interfere with depth and seed soil contact.
More benefits were avoiding contact with stubble from the previous year when sowing wheat on wheat, when yellow leaf spot was present.
Then four years ago he purchased a disc planter on twenty inch spacing to make the practise easier again. With the wider spacing it allows for crops to be inter-row sown in successive years with no stubble contact. Although this method perhaps reduces yield slightly in wetter years he feels this is compensated by increased yields in drier seasons.
Reduced canopy cover in later sown crops has not been an issue as they are able to sow on time with the efficiencies of controlled traffic farming.
Fuel usage has been reduced even further with the disc seeder combined with controlled traffic farming and he now uses up to a third less fuel than when farming conventionally.
With signs of weed resistance (ryegrass) starting to appear Geoff is now mixing his chemical groups and also spraying fence lines to control all volunteer weed seed set. He has also set up the header for narrow windrow burning and this is a tool he’ll use into the future.
Geoff classifies himself as a conservation farmer and since switching to no-till and controlled traffic farming has noticed a distinct improvement in his soil structure, being more friable with better moisture retention.
Geoff puts sustainability and profitability together and thinks they go hand in hand. He has been cautious about pushing for maximum profits at the expense of soil health and in ten or fifteen years hopes to still be improving his farming methods, increasing diversity and remaining flexible in his approach to utilizing all tools available.
His advice to other farmers contemplating change in their farming practise is to set goals and try to achieve them, but not to become too rigid in implementing new ideas if markets or seasons are adverse to a certain decision.