New life for depleted soil

Spreading crop risk to make gains


Cropping
YIELD RISE: Jason Rover, Paringa, had a 50 per cent increase in wheat crop yields after introducing vetch into his rotation two years ago.

YIELD RISE: Jason Rover, Paringa, had a 50 per cent increase in wheat crop yields after introducing vetch into his rotation two years ago.

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After six years of continuously cropping wheat Jason Rover, Paringa, had such nutrient-deficient soil that he decided to make a change. He incorporated vetch and barley crops into his rotation to help restore soil health.

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After six years of continuously cropping wheat, Jason Rover, Paringa, had such nutrient-deficient soil that he decided to make a change. He incorporated vetch and barley crops into his rotation to help restore soil health.

A third-generation farmer, Jason operates the 8000-hectare family farm with the help of his father Robert. 

In past seasons, the Rovers used vetch as a break crop but a new three-year rotation including barley will begin this year. 

Jason said reduced yield was the first sign of a soil issue and that a change was needed.

"We were hitting a production wall because the soil had lost its nutrition," he said. 

"Protein levels were going down more and more each year and we realised we needed a break crop to rectify the problem."

Last year, 6000ha of wheat and 2000ha of vetch were sown from Anzac Day until the third week of May.

Jason said two seasons ago, he believed the introduction of vetch had wheat crop yields on the rise. 

 "Wheat yields were about 50 per cent greater following the vetch crop, so that was enough to make us realise it was something we should be doing," he said. 

This year’s rotation will be 2500ha of wheat, vetch and Compass barley. 

It is not the first time Jason has tried to introduce barley into his rotation. Many seasons ago he decided to give it a shot but experienced a 30pc loss after a summer storm ripped through the region at harvest.

He said that was enough of a reason not to continue with the crop, but after not running livestock for 15 years, it was important to get as much as possible out of his available land. 

“I definitely said that we would never grow barley again but because frost is a new issue we are faced with out here, we decided to spread the risk by having the three crops,” Jason said. 

“We could not replace our issues with fertiliser either, so the new rotation was the only way we could get the ground lifted.” 

Compass barley was chosen because of its high yielding characteristics and last season 1600ha was sown for seed production.

“Instead of buying in seed I began growing it last year and will build up the hectares from there,” Jason said. 

Vetch paddocks will not just help with nitrogen replacement, it will also manage weed control, which is another battle for the Rovers. 

“Last season was a bad year for grasses. We have a lot of paddocks that will be sown with vetch this year because it is a good opportunity to control it,” Jason said. 

“Our yields are lower, too, and it is not viable to put expensive in-crop grass sprays. We tried sprays in the past but they were not 100pc effective on weeds.” 

“Controlling the grasses will also minimise weed disease carryover into the following season’s crops.”

UNSEASONABLE CHALLENGES TEST ROVERS’ RESOLVE

JASON Rover had never been able to begin his Christmas holidays early, until last year when the season cut off and he finished harvest by the end of November. 

When the season compacted and just one beneficial rain arrived for the season, Jason began harvest on October 5, his earliest start date.  

“Crops started to run up because of moisture stress. We were lucky rain came in August and helped get the crops across the line but the yields were not great,” he said. 

Jason said crops had ripened in time for harvest but he was met with multiple challenges throughout the season.

His father Robert had farmed the region for 50 years and never experienced frost, but in the past five years two frosts had threatened the Rovers’ crop yields. 

“During harvest I realised we had about 20 per cent damage after we got a severe frost after the August rain,” Jason said.

“The first frost a few seasons ago we lost about 50pc.” 

The challenges kept presenting when Russian wheat aphid also arrived and caused about 20pc damage. 

Jason chose not to apply a seed treatment and could not spray for RWA because of bees pollinating neighbouring almond orchards. 

The Rovers had a below average season last year but Jason said considering the new challenges that arose, they were lucky. 

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