Big tick to no-till

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - Ag Life -

Some­thing very un­usual hap­pened re­cently. I went to a farm con­fer­ence and most of the speak­ers were un­der the age of 40. I know! Who knew?

If you do ever at­tend such events, the av­er­age age is more like 60-plus, a re­flec­tion of the fact the av­er­age age of farm­ers in Aus­tralia is 57.

The young farm­ers were in­spi­ra­tional, their en­thu­si­asm con­ta­gious, their courage to break the rules and chal­lenge agri­cul­tural prac­tices ad­mirable.

It was the Vic No-till con­fer­ence with sev­eral hun­dred farm­ers in at­ten­dance.

Noth­ing too fancy, not too many speak­ers, just large doses of prac­ti­cal in­for­ma­tion and first­hand anec­dotes. They were no doubt preach­ing to the con­verted, but they were also con­stantly prov­ing that it’s not just less plough­ing and land prepa­ra­tion – it’s all about soil bi­ol­ogy.

As an avid gar­dener, us ‘green thumbs’ could learn a thing or too also. It’s kind of gardening on a mas­sive scale. Al­ways have the soil cov­ered by other plants or mulch and you’ll not only con­trol weeds, you’ll keep soils moist, roots won’t be ex­posed to tem­per­a­ture ex­tremes and lots of ben­e­fi­cial in­sects will make life much eas­ier.

But there’s more! Pres­i­dent of Vic No-till, Pine Grove farmer Grant Simms, told the story of trav­el­ling in the United States to do the good old, ‘com­pare and con­trast’ no-till farm­ing and was shocked to learn of the gains be­ing made by putting live­stock back into the no-till sys­tem.

He had to make a hurried call home to tell the earth movers on his farm to stop flat­ten­ing all the dams and to in­stead clear out the ones al­ready filled.

“We found in some of our poorer soils we had prob­lems grow­ing the di­ver­sity of grain crops, so then when we put the multi-species pas­tures in, they seemed to grow well,” Grant said.

“We could con­vert that into live weight gains and we’re find­ing they re­ally are prim­ing the pump.”

The cat­tle not only eat the pas­tures, they knock it down to make mulch, cooked to per­fec­tion by their fer­tile cow pats, which then be­come home to a mul­ti­tude of worms, dung bee­tles and other creepy crawlies that add to the soil struc­ture.

An­other of the younger speak­ers was Tim Rethus who farms near Hor­sham.

He stud­ied en­gi­neer­ing and sees tech­nol­ogy as the next quan­tum gain for no-till farm­ing.

“If you’re look­ing for in­no­va­tion, if you’re look­ing to im­prove your farm and make it more sus­tain­able, you’re al­ways look­ing for that next thing,” he said.

“Now what we want to know is where we’re go­ing to leap off. I think a large part of it is the dig­i­tal side of things, such as spa­tial data.”

As we’ve heard many times in the past fort­night, ‘one small step for man, one gi­ant leap for mankind’.

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