Case study: Nick Eckermann, Rankins Springs, NSW – Inter-row sowing in a stubble retained farming system.
Property: “Hillview” 15km south west of Rankins Springs.
Enterprises: Cropping 10,000 ha.
Soil type and pH: loam tending to sands with a pH of 5 – 5.5.
The Eckermann’s are broadacre croppers and have not run livestock for ten years. They felt they were compromising their farming country by running livestock in a mixed farming operation due to soil moisture decisions and compromises with weed management, deciding to concentrate purely on a stubble retained cropping system.
Issues and observations of controlled traffic farming:
Nick explains they are not 100% controlled traffic farming at this stage. They work on a twelve metre system but still use duels on their main tractor and header but everything is confined to a designated wheel track area.
Nick considers themselves to be currently in a conversion phase and in the future can see themselves being 100% controlled traffic.
They currently renovate their tram tracks (sow over them) as it better suits their soil type rather than leaving bare.
The Eckermann’s primary motivations for moving toward controlled traffic farming was the desire to improve their soil’s water retention capability and keep soil compaction to a minimum, after gaining information from various sources. The practice has evolved over a five or six year period with the existing machinery spacing suiting the transition.
Areas where they using controlled traffic are already showing a marked improvement in water infiltration and retention, resulting in increased crop yields over the traditionally farmed areas.
Reduced fuel use has not been noticeable to this point, though Nick is aware that single wheel permanent tracks would undoubtedly give more efficiency.
Taking on new country a few years previously that had been conventionally farmed in a mixed farming operation, Nick observed the soil was not as friable or easy to work as was the country they had farmed using no-till methods for some years.
Issues and observations of inter-row sowing:
The Eckermann’s began inter row sowing in 2006 and had good success using one bar on a twelve inch spacing. Then in 2010 they switched to a disc sowing system to 50% of their planting operation but found they had more difficulty keeping within the rows with this system. They returned to a single bar system but this year are incorporating a satellite steering guidance system into their farming plant which will simplify the operation considerably.
Nick isn’t considering changing their row spacing, being happy with where they are at now. He feels with a guidance system the rows filling shouldn’t be an issue. It should also make sowing of small seeds such as canola easier and improve germination, as they have tried most stubble management techniques in the past, but inter row sowing is by far the most effective.
Break crops play an important role in their cropping program, largely for disease control. Depending on seasons and markets between 25% and 40% of their country is sown to alternate crops to wheat, canola if soil moisture is sufficient and various legume crops which he prefers. Flexibility remains a key.
Weed resistance is starting to become an issue and Nick has been using windrow burning the past couple of years as a new tool to combat this. He is also growing vetch for brown manure or hay as another management option in paddocks where there is suspected ryegrass resistance.
Nick is focused very much on stubble retention in his cropping program and does not consider full burning of stubble a viable tool. Even if the stubble load is over three ton a hectare (an amount possibly detrimental to the following crop) he would rather take a short term yield loss for the longer term benefits to the soil.
Some of their lighter country can blow if ground cover is insufficient. This, combined with increased soil retention and organic material, is the reason Nick and his family are determined to tackle the many challenges of inter-row sowing and full stubble retention.