SANTFA Cover Crop Articles

Over the course of the project, SANTFA will be publishing articles about the successful integration mixed species into farming systems

Taking a fresh look at the soil

With an aim to produce nutritious and healthy food for humans and animals while regenerating their farm and providing a biodiverse farm ecology, Ian and Fiona Koch, Barossa Valley, are learning each and every day. They’re sixth generation farmers in the Barossa Valley and are working towards a more sustainable future by listening to and working with the land around them. Farmed in traditional European methods – with cereal crops plant- ed and livestock farmed – since the 1840s, when the couple took over the management of land they decid- ed to make change.

Regenerating the land they know

Succession planning on the farm planted the seed for soil regeneration and increasing plant species for Tracy and Owen Bonython. Tracy is a fourth generation farm- er and with the support of husband Owen, and their two young children, they’re slowly implementing change for the future. Their successful goat business, Bon Chevon, has also seen a benefit from adding plant species diversity to the soils they graze.

Increasing all the positives

While the results are yet to tell a full story, the Polkinghorne family at Lock, Eyre Peninsula, are looking forward to this year’s intercrop go- ing in. Andrew and his wife Jenny along with their son Tim, his partner and their children, are paving the way for crop diversity. Last season was the first year of trialling two crops – beans and lentils – in the one paddock together.

From sunflowers to chicory and forage brassica to millet, these are just some of the different plant species John Quinn, of Mount Bry- an, has used to diversify his farming program. Seeing the need to improve their soil, Mr Quinn started making change about four years ago and, so far, it’s working to their advantage – with their merino flock especially enjoying the additional feed.

Aphids as Indicators

Understanding likely Aphid population responses to management, climate, crop type and increased diversity within a crop field, it may be possible to select agronomic practices that limit threats.

Legumes in the rotation

The combination of nutrients from chicken litter plus nitrogen fixed by the lentils in the previous year provides most of the cereals’ nitrogen requirements and means Brendan doesn’t usually need to apply any ‘starter’ fertiliser at seeding.

Improving soil fertility leads to better livestock health

The Hammat family of Baderloo Poll Merino Stud in SA’s Mid North are investing in their property’s soil health to build a

more profitable and sustainable livestock enterprise.For Daniel Hammat, livestock health starts with the soil. As the owner of Baderloo Poll Merino Stud at Washpool, in the state’s Mid North, Daniel believes soil fertility is the key to achieving pasture improvement, better sheep health and ultimately a more financially and environmentally sustainable enterprise.

More ground cover equals more moisture

Moisture retention has become an even higher priority for NSW continuous croppers David and Peter Ricardo since they

added dryland cotton, a summer crop, to their cropping program. Conserving soil moisture is always front of mind for northern NSW growers David and Peter Ricardo.The brothers run a 9,000ha continuous cropping enterprise between Walgett and Collarenebri, where low growing-season rainfall and the full gamut of extreme weather conditions make moisture efficiency a game changer.

A Bugs Life

Understanding when a crop is threatened underpins management of pests to limit economic loss. Central to Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practised in broadacre farming in Australia is monitoring to determine insect populations prior to implementing controls when action thresholds are reached1. However, monitoring is often under-resourced, which leads to prophylactic insecticide applications. Diverse farm ecosystems will be enhanced by incorporating new technologies and pest developmental models into IPM.

Mother Nature Knows Best

The future of agriculture depends on farmers working with natural ecosystems, according US researcher Dr Dwayne Beck, who shares his model for creating profitable and sustainable cropping systems that rebuild the soil and ensure a sustainable supply of food for generations to come.

Drought Tolerance Through Regenerative Farming

Drought conditions in NSW have put Michael Inwood’s focus on sustainable and regenerative agriculture to the test but he is seeing promising signs that a combination of plant diversity, pasture cropping and rotational grazing will carry his farm through the dry spells.

No-till a no-brainer for mixed farmers

Converting to a no-till system almost a decade ago has benefited the Loller family’s livestock business as much as their cropping enterprise. Adoption of a no-till system almost 10 years ago was a turning point for the Loller family; the change delivering a series of flow-on benefits across the enterprise ranging from improved soil health to increased stocking rates.

Triticale in the rotation

Triticale lost favour with many Australian growers almost a decade ago, but its ability to produce biomass and grain in

tough conditions could see it re-emerge as a viable option for dryland farmers. Triticale is a good producer of high quality, highly palatable forage if you grow and conserve it properly,” said Kath. “It recovers well after grazing and produces more

biomass than many other cereal and legume varieties, particularly in drought conditions. The interest in growing triticale for forage has definitely increased in the past decade.

Managing carbon for yield and biology

Almost a decade ago NSW farmer Alastair Starritt set out to find ‘a direction for enhancing carbon sequestration and soil health in broadacre agriculture’. Eight years after completing his Nuffield scholarship study of this issue he is continuing to pursue that objective on the family property in the southern Riverina roughly mid-way between Echuca-Moama and Deniliquin. He is now focused more on the role of carbon in soil health than carbon sequestration.

More to perennial cereals than yield

Researchers involved in a global project to develop perennial wheat and other grains have registered strains of perennial wheatgrass as Kernza, but new crop, which is being grown commercially in the US, is a long way from wheat in every way. Growing perennial wheat – or any perennial grain crop – would require a farming system dramatically different from current dryland cereal production systems. This is acknowledged by those involved in the perennial grains initiative. While plant breeders are striving to develop commercially viable perennial grains, others are working on ways to integrate perennial cereals into farming systems.

Covers, litter and the terms of trade

After years of practicing no-till, retaining crop residues and applying chicken litter, Nuffield scholar Grant Pontifex has concluded growers need to grow more diverse, high-carbon cover crops to feed soil biology. Paskeville farmer Grant Pontifex is dedicated to improve soil health and maximising the benefits of cover cropping on his family’s properties on Kangaroo Island and Yorke Peninsula. Those benefits include potential to maintain profitability in the face of rising costs and worsening terms of trade.

Nitrogen – know the system, do the numbers

Could less intensive cropping programs improve growers’ financial and environmental sustainability? Aspects of a CSIRO paper that draws together multiple scientific and economic strands of decades of nitrogen-related research would seem to suggest the question is at least worth asking. Aiming to optimise, rather than maximise, yields could open the way to environmental and economic sustain- ability for growers cropping soils with falling organic matter and nitrogen (N) levels and facing rising fertiliser N costs.

Mixed farming still has an important role in Australian agriculture. The question is how to make the most of it and how livestock best fits with intensive cropping. Canowindra farmer Stuart McDonald has no doubt about the benefits of mixed farming. He has moved away from an extended ley farming system to continuous cropping on much of his property. However, livestock continue to have important profit-generating and risk reduction roles in his business.  Stuart believes they can also help improve soil biology and health.

Regenerative farmer Bruce Maynard is on a mission to ensure the future oagriculture and the communities that make it tick. Farming must be about working with nature, not against it, says Bruce Maynard.