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No-Till the Future of Farming?

No-till is a method of farming in which farmers and try and disturb the minimum amount of soil possible.

Tom Robinson is a local South Australian farmer who shared his farming experiences with Flow FM last year:

Since moving to a zero-till system in 2002, Robinson has noticed the difference with last year’s residue being kept on top of the surface.

When asked about aerating the soil through tillage, Robinson explained how this is an outdated theory, and what to do instead.

Since making the switch to zero-tillage, Robinson told Flow FM he has seen a 25-50% increase in his crops.

“When you get the system right it can make a big difference – but not just in yields.

“We’re also able to decrease our inputs…we no longer use a broad spectrum insecticide and we’re dropping our chemical fertiliser inputs by up to half,” he said.

CSIRO Researcher John Kirkegaard is also in favour of a no-till and stubble retention system, speaking at the recent Grains Research and Development Corporation’s Bendigo updates.

“There is no doubt that no-till and stubble retention systems protects the soil from erosion, helps to maintain soil structural stability and has many other economic benefits.

“But are we able to maintain the organic fertility of the soil under the systems in the same way pastures have done?

“We know from a lot of work that pastures can build soil carbon and soil organic matter and our typical mixed farming system built that fertility during the pasture phase and then utilised it in the cropping phase.

“The best systems are maintaining the soil fertility but not building it and many are continuing to lose soil organic matter,” he said.

According to the researcher, “Stable organic matter — the stuff that provides fertility to your crops, contains carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and sulphur,” is vital.

“They’re all there in relatively predictable amounts, which is why the stuff can del­iver fertility,” he said.

Dr Kirkegaard also advised farmers about the need to manage mineral nitrogen every year, and introduce legumes into systems to ensure sustainability.

“If you think of nutrient or nitrogen use efficiency as the kilograms of grain you are pulling off per kilo of nitrogen you are putting on, remember you can still be very efficient but just be mining that soil organic matter.

“That will catch up with you to the point where you will need more and more nitrogen to be supplied from fertiliser,” he said.

The Victorian State Government is also exploring sustainable farming options for the future, with a Roundtable meeting today.

Bringing together farmers, scientists, commodity experts and industry leaders, the Roundtable aims to explore future agricultural research and development opportunities, and other adaptation measures to address a changing climate.

Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford commented on the meeting, saying “Our agriculture industry in Australia continually punches well above its weight, accounting for 13 per cent of all exports, but with the right investment in technology and innovation we are confident our sector will soar.” 

“This Roundtable is a valuable opportunity to consider the complex issues associated with climate change and how more than 190,000 people employed in the sector can take advantage of new opportunities,” she said.

Image Source – Leyo