Challenging soils addressed in Mallee

Challenging soils addressed in Mallee


Cropping
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Variable soils can create some “good challenges” for Coomandook farmers Tim and Cheryl Freak but it also makes their management strategies interesting.

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Variable soils can create some “good challenges” for Coomandook farmers Tim and Cheryl Freak but it also makes their management strategies interesting.

They have soils that range from “good loam” through to high pH grey soils and non-wetting sands.

In connection with the local agriculture bureau, they dug a soil pit to identify some of the more difficult soils they face, and this year have put some plans into action.

Mr Freak said since they started using no-till, non-wetting soils had become more of an issue, so they were looking at ways to manage those, such as delving clay from about one metre deep, to mix in with the top sandy layer.

The soil is then levelled out and sown, using direct drill.

Mr Freak said he was hopeful the mixing of clay and sand could help the soil to hold its moisture and nutrients, which in-turn could help boost seed germination.

But with limestone on their property, as well as some soils without clay underneath, delving was not a solution for all of their non-wetting sands.

This year they have also invested in the Plozza Plough, invented by a WA farmer, after seeing it in action at a Geranium field day, with plans to use it on some of their difficult paddocks to invert the top non-wetting soils and combine it with some of the subsoil.

This involves modifying a traditional disc plough by swapping out the existing discs for a 780-millimetre plough on every second jump-arm.

“A few guys (locally) tried it last year with a bit of success,” he said. “It’s not a big investment with machinery, so we don’t have a lot to lose.”

They also seek to minimise input costs, particularly on the higher pH soils by monitoring plant health and applying fertilisers and trace elements when required. 

“That sort of soil ties up nutrients very easily,” Mr Freak said. “It seems to be an issue that comes up, so we will give crops just what they need for this year.

“We’re not growing 4 tonne to 5t crops, we’re only growing a 2-3t crop, so we really do try and manage input costs carefully.

“If season the looks good, we will apply nitrogen later in the season.”

Sheep pivotal to crop rotations

Tim and Cheryl Freak, Coomandook, grow Scepter wheat, Spartacus barley, canola and lupins, as well as oaten hay for the export market across 3000 hectares.

They also run 3000 Merino ewes, with a split between a wool focus – averaging 20 micron – and joining some to White Suffolk rams for the first-cross market.

Mr Freak said the sheep were incorporated into the cropping rotation, with vetch used as a break crop to incorporate nitrogen and reduce disease and weed burdens.

“Rather than sow high-risk legume crops, we use vetch for sheep feed and then spray it out to stop seed set,” he said.

“If any weed issues start to develop, we can put that paddock to pasture for a couple of years.”

Mr Freak said having the blend of livestock, cropping and fodder production had other benefits.

“Not too many years go by that we wouldn’t get a bit of frost – with hay and sheep it spreads the risk,” he said.

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