As the seasons continue to bring new challenges each year, the Pratt family at Blyth has reassessed their traditional on-farm practices and begun using non-chemical alternatives that boost crop nutrition and control ryegrass.
Ben Pratt and his father Kevin crop about 2000 hectares.
But they are looking to expand their cropping area and Ben said to ensure sustainability of their farming practices “things had to change and move forward”.
“There is always a cause and response for why a crop is not performing, it is not just because of a lack of rain – there are other major drivers behind it and for us it is about working out what those drivers are,” he said.
Facing their fifth driest season in 100 years, Ben said chemical efficiency was also being affected because of the lack of rain, as was plant available nutrition.
“Ryegrass has been quite bad this year because we never got any follow up rain after we sowed, so the success of chemicals has been way down compared with past seasons – so we incorporated chaff lining this harvest,” he said.
Manure suits long-term plan
Blyth graingrower Ben Pratt’s decision to focus on long-term crop nutrition strategies rather than quick fix methods has delivered positive results so far.
Mr Pratt has decided to apply more than 3000 tonnes of pig manure across his entire cropping area to counteract nitrogen and other nutrient deficiencies in crops, rather than using fertilisers such as urea.
“We had all of our paddocks mapped for nutrients and created management zones to work out where it was needed most,” Mr Pratt said.
“We put about 2.5t a hectare across the whole farm but the sandy soils get about 5t/ha because we know those areas consistently yield 4-6t/ha,” he said.
“The aim is to be less reliant on phosphorous fertilisers because we think that as grain prices get higher so will chemical prices, and it is uneconomical to be paying big dollars for chemicals like we were in 2007.”
Pig manure was chosen because it is high in macronutrients such as potassium, sulfur and nitrogen.
“Rather than applying fertiliser such as urea where you get bang for your buck very fast, the manure has a slow release effect,” Mr Pratt said.
“We have found the chemical fertilisers have created irregular growth, whereas this season we had regular plant growth because it trickle fed throughout the season and it kicked in when the crop needed it most,” he said.
With running costs of up to $400 an hour to spread the pig manure, Mr Pratt sourced the machinery to make it more viable as a long-term strategy.
“We bought our own spreader and we are getting about 10ha an hour done so it is about $40/ha using our own machinery,” he said.
“This year the results showed about a 1.35t/ha increase in yield on the slopes, zero response on the flats and about 250 kilograms/ha response on the hills.
“In past seasons we have used up to 250kg/ha of chemical fertilisers whereas this year it was down to 70kg/ha on average.”
To progress weed management practices on-farm, Mr Pratt also began chaff lining for the first time this year to control ryregrass without relying on chemicals.
“We want to limit chemical usage and there is less risk and volatility using pig manure because we are not at the hands of the fertiliser companies,” he said.
Mr Pratt has made an investment into an EMAR Chaff Deck that uses two hydraulic motors to divert chaff onto the controlled traffic wheel tracks.
“Instead of weed seeds being across 100 per cent of the paddock it will only about 10pc and then we will be able to decide if we want to manage them,” he said.
“In summer we will see if the practice has made an impact on summer weeds.”