A 12-year project to improve his soils is sending Grant Pontifex, Paskeville, overseas.
Mr Pontifex received a 2018 Nuffield Scholarship, sponsored by Nufarm, and plans to explore uses of chicken manure and cover cropping to improve soil health.
He has been spreading chicken manure sourced from the Port Wakefield poultry farms on his soils for the past 12 years.
“It has been working really well and we are seeing gradual improvements each year,” he said.
“We haven’t been using traditional, granular, fertiliser for eight years here.
“We’re relying on chicken manure for phosphorus and nutrients for crops, then top up with nitrogen in good years.
“It’s about improving soil health naturally, rather than adding chemicals to soil but I want to find better ways of doing what we’re doing.”
Mr Pontifex would like to find more efficient methods of applying chicken litter.
He said other countries that used manure had regulations to do with odour and run-off into waterways, which would result in efficient practices to minimise waste.
Mr Pontifex farms in partnership with brother Ben, who manages a second property on Kangaroo Island, where they do not use chicken manure due to the expense of freight.
He is on the lookout for options to make freighting a possibility, such as composting or pellets.
“Even if we can use it more efficiently, so we don’t need as much,” he said.
“We use 2.5 tonnes a hectare to provide what the crop needs each year.
“If we could improve on that, so we need less, it might make it more viable to freight.”
He said there was opportunity to learn, not just from those farms using poultry waste, but also from other intensive operations, such as cattle feedlots or large-scale dairies, which also had large amounts of waste that needed to be put to use.
He said the demand for chicken litter had also grown since he began using it, leading to an increase in price, which was another reason to explore efficiency gains.
Mr Pontifex’s other goal is to look at the opportunities in cover cropping – sowing a multi-species crop with the sole intention of adding carbon and organic matter to soils.
“It can keep the soil biology alive year-round,” he said.
“Here, we sow in May, harvest in November, and for six months we haven’t got anything growing in the soil.”
He said this could be a good option for the KI property to help avoid waterlogging and to potentially add nitrogen by growing legumes.
He would also like to explore if this was a viable option on YP – saying it might be a balancing act between storing moisture and having improved soil health.
“Moisture is king and it’s probably the limiting factor in why cover crops are not big here,” he said.
“It might only be an opportunity (crop) during wet summers.
“We might as well get the advantages in cycling nutrients, rather than have the water evaporate or grow weeds.”
Mr Pontifex said he had picked projects that he thought could bring value for both properties.
He has wanted to participate in the Nuffield program for years.
With his three children – Lane, Tyler and Shali – a bit older, and good staff in the business, he felt in a better position to spend 16 weeks overseas.