What began as a trial to boost soil fertility and crop potential more than 10 years ago has today become an integral part of a Baroota family's farming system.
Fourth-generation farmers Brad and Matt Dennis, their father Robert and grandfather Peter incorporated chicken manure into the fertiliser program to increase nitrogen supply within the sandy soil profile.
Brad said the program began on a small scale with about 500 tonnes of manure a year but it had since increased to more than 2500t.
"We had heard about using manure from a few local trials so we began experimenting and we have not stopped since then," he said.
The Dennis family's property spans 5000 hectares from Port Germein to Baroota and they sharefarm and lease a further 5000ha in the same area.
Cropping 3620ha of wheat, barley, vetch, peas and lentils, Brad said the main driver to incorporate alternative fertilisers into the program was to improve soil structure and fertility.
"Since using chicken manure and biosolids, a lot of the Baroota country's clay patches are a lot less visible," he said.
"We are still using a few traditional fertilisers such as diammonium phosphate and urea as a top up for nitrogen supply but we have brought those rates back slightly.
"This year our annual rate will be about 30 kilograms a ha of DAP and 2.5t/ha of manure."
Brad said the program was not about creating a financial gain but to preserve soil quality for future seasons.
More recently, biosolids have also been included as a fertiliser and are spread across paddocks throughout March.
Matt said although it was difficult to quantify a yield increase or soil structure improvement since using alternative fertilisers, he believed "crops had definitely bulked up".
"We have had a few good years in a row so it is difficult to determine if it's the input changes or good seasons that have made a positive effect," he said.
"But we have paddocks with a deep sandy soil profile and building up the organic matter in it has helped to improve our deep, gutless sands."
Previously, chicken manure was spread all at once about a month before seeding began but this year, only 40 per cent was spread at this time and the remaining amount will be outlaid directly in front of the seeder.
"The idea is to incorporate it in one pass with the seeder and not lose nitrogen into the atmosphere and maximise its benefit on crop growth," Matt said.
"We are spreading the manure within about 10 minutes of the seeder and it also helps to eliminate the smell of it," he said.
The Dennis family began sowing vetch three weeks ago and started 2000ha of wheat on Monday last week.
Diversity helps to reduce risk
IMPLEMENTING on-farm practices and input strategies to help manage risk during a dry season has become a yearly plan for the Dennis family, Baroota.
With an annual rainfall of 325 millimetres and having received just 24mm to the end of April, Matt Dennis said "our perspective is to keep the farm diverse, utilise access to irrigation and manage on-farm risk with multiple income streams".
"Our main operation is cropping but we also run sheep and have a vineyard," he said.
"Being in a pretty marginal area, building a versatile system with longevity is important."
The Dennis family runs about 1800 wethers for wool production and 2000 Merino breeding ewes.
"The vineyard is irrigated so it's an income that is not dictated by the type of season we are dealing with," Matt said.
"We utilise centre pivot irrigation on a sorghum crop - this year we sowed about 50ha to cut once or twice for hay to feed livestock. It is just another way to manage risk."
For the first time, Clearfield barley variety Spartacus will also be sown this year to help manage crop damage during a dry season.
"We have switched to a Clearfield variety to stay away from Group B herbicides carryover," Matt said.
"It is unlikely there will be enough rainfall to wash the herbicides out of system.
"We have decreased fertiliser rates by 15 per cent because of the dry start."