Find­ing a bet­ter fer­tiliser

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - PAID CONTENT -

FARM­ING in­ge­nu­ity and ef­fi­ciency comes to mind when vis­it­ing the small crops and beef graz­ing prop­erty of the Haaksma fam­ily near Childers.

An­drew Haaksma, to­gether with his wife, Ker­ryn, and par­ents, Jack and Dorothy, op­er­ate the 153-hectare Water­vale prop­erty, where they grow zuc­chi­nis, squash and snow peas over about 10ha, and run around 50 breed­ers.

They also grow pas­ture hay, of which most is sold, and mow and bale hay for var­i­ous fel­low land­hold­ers.

The hor­ti­cul­tural crops are grown over a wide ro­ta­tion, with up to two crops a year on heavy red soils and one crop ev­ery five years on their grey coun­try.

They nor­mally man­age three blocks of snow peas and 10 blocks of zuc­chini each year, with the snow peas grown over 10 weeks and pick­ing then hap­pen­ing for six weeks, while the zuc­chini can be picked af­ter about five weeks in sum­mer and seven to eight weeks in win­ter, com­pleted over four weeks.

All work­ing up of the ground is per­formed with small ma­chin­ery and the crop rows are set at a width of 3m.

Snow plea plants are spaced ev­ery 50mm, while there is 75 cen­time­tres be­tween the zuc­chi­nis.

Most sim­i­lar op­er­a­tions nor­mally un­der­take full cul­ti­va­tion and bed­ding up be­fore in­stalling plas­tic, how­ever the Haaks­mas don’t use plas­tic.

It also means they use only about one-third of the fuel and time of sim­i­lar pro­grams.

They also slash grass be­tween the rows and put it on the beds to help re­tain mois­ture and they use a disc to roll in dirt around the squash plants, cov­er­ing any weeds. A fi­nal ro­tary pass is per­formed be­fore plant­ing and fer­tiliser is drilled to a depth of 15–20cm us­ing a sin­gle tyne fer­tiliser box, which also sets the mark for in­stalling the trickle tape.

The old fer­tiliser box used was orig­i­nally pur­chased by An­drew’s grand­fa­ther.

The fam­ily’s ir­ri­gation sys­tem is pow­ered by a home-made, 19-kilo­watt stand-alone three-phase so­lar ar­ray.

Soil test­ing is car­ried out and the Haaks­mas have pre­vi­ously been us­ing an or­ganic Katek Cus­tom Blend fer­tiliser, as well as ap­ply­ing chicken ma­nure, lime and gyp­sum, the lat­ter to cor­rect cal­cium de­fi­ciency and high soil alu­minium.

They switched to a gran­u­lar NPK fer­tiliser and achieved a bet­ter re­sult, how­ever then had con­cerns with nu­tri­ent leach­ing.

“We were find­ing with the gran­u­lar fer­tiliser that we would put it in, then we were get­ting a heap of rain and it would leach out. We were putting out about one tonne of it over sev­eral blocks and los­ing most of it over the early crop cy­cle,” An­drew said.

He said it would also be more dif­fi­cult to ap­ply gran­u­lar NPK fer­tiliser in fu­ture due to the push for more ef­fi­cient fer­tiliser use to help pro­tect the Great Bar­rier Reef.

The Haaks­mas have since cut back on their pre-plant fer­tiliser and will al­ter­nate be­tween the Katek prod­uct and the gran­u­lar NPK fer­tiliser. How­ever, they have de­cided to use wa­ter sol­u­ble fer­tilis­ers through the trickle ir­ri­gation, us­ing Haifa prod­ucts Poly-Feed 15 and Poly-Feed 12, sourced through Lind­say Ru­ral at Childers.

“It’s about half the amount of gran­u­lar fer­tiliser we were ap­ply­ing. We ap­ply 0.6 kilo­gram ev­ery 10m of row – or about 150kg/ac,” An­drew said.

“We are try­ing to de­velop a pro­gram that is sim­ple and the 25-kilo­gram bag of (Haifa) Poly-Feed (per acre) per week from about three weeks af­ter ger­mi­na­tion is good,” An­drew said.

Vir­tu­ally free of chlo­ride, sodium and other detri­men­tal el­e­ments, Poly-Feed pro­vides op­ti­mal, bal­anced nutri­tion through­out the growth cy­cle.

“We also put in a bag of Haifa Cal ni­trate per week and half a bag of Multi-K potas­sium ni­trate per week just be­fore flow­er­ing,” An­drew said.

The fer­tiliser pro­gram then stops be­fore the end of har­vest.

“An­other grower has been us­ing all straight fer­tilis­ers and has been find­ing the crops are get­ting a lot of N and pro­duc­ing bulk, but not get­ting the flow­ers.”

An­drew said they had been happy with their crop pro­duc­tion and qual­ity.

“The qual­ity has been good right from the start,” he said.

“A good crop of snow peas is 1.5-2kg/m. Last year we had seven-foot high peas and we have done up to 3kg/m.”

The zuc­chini crop is grown af­ter the snow peas to take ad­van­tage of any resid­ual nutri­tion, as well as to gain mul­ti­ple use of the trickle tape.

❝Last year we had seven-foot high peas and we have done up to 3kg/m. — An­drew Haaksma


Childers grower An­drew Haaksma with some of the small ma­chin­ery used on the fam­ily's Water­vale prop­erty.

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