No-till trial starts a farming revolution

Farmer, Geoff Barber, and NSW Department of Primary Industries agronomist, Barry Haskins at 'Sylvanham' - site of the no-till trial which is changing the face of farming in the surrounding district.
Farmer, Geoff Barber, and NSW Department of Primary Industries agronomist, Barry Haskins, at 'Sylvanham' - site of the no-till trial which is changing the face of farming in the surrounding district.

A joint NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Central West Farming Systems (CWFS) trial has proven its worth during the current drought and triggered a massive conversion from conventional cultivation to no-till farming.

When the farmer-driven trial started seven years ago as little as five per cent of the surrounding cropping area used no-till, now more than 60 per cent of the Merriwagga cropping district is reaping the moisture-locking benefits of no-till.

NSW DPI Hillston district agronomist, Barry Haskins, said the Riverina-based trial was the number one reason for the rapid shift in farming practices.

“One of the big advantages of no-till is that the system maximises soil moisture retention,” Mr Haskins said.

“Partially by retaining stubble, but also direct drilling allows moisture to stay in the soil profile.”

As proof of the system’s benefits, no-till wheat plots in the trial could this year yield as high as one tonne per hectare, despite receiving less than 100 millimetres of rain so far this growing season - less than half the seasonal average of 220 millimetres.

According to Mr Haskins use of chemical weed control and one-pass planting also has economic and social benefits for no-till farmers.

“Fuel prices have gone up and chemical prices have come down.  No-till allows farmers to plant crops more cheaply, use less labour and still be confident that they can get high yields.

“We started with a red soil hardpan and it took three years before we saw the benefits of no-till.

“In hindsight a one-off, deep ripping to condition the soil when the trial began would have improved moisture infiltration to the root zone and produced better results sooner.”

Located on the Barber’s ‘Sylvanham’ cropping and grazing property, the trial’s 30 one-hectare plots have undergone five different rotational treatments with a mix of wheat, barley, legumes, pulses and long fallows.

Farmer, Geoff Barber, said the trial which compared cultivation and no-till systems was big enough to give meaningful results and small enough to manage.

“The biggest lesson for us has been the need to use crop rotation within the system to manage for herbicide resistance - particularly resistant rye grass,” Mr Barber said.

“We thought the continuous wheat rotation would be the most profitable because you get a cash crop every year, but the build-up of resistant rye grass is its downfall.”

Mr Barber said in future rotations they would consider using peas, canola and mustard as break crops to prevent herbicide resistance.

Sponsored by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, CWFS allows farmers across the State to share results of trials in the Riverina and Central West. Farmers can contact Barry Haskins, ph (02) 6960 1320, for more information on CWFS trials.