The winner of the 2013 Biosecurity Farmer of the Year Award in the plant category, Ron Creagh, on-farm at Nungarin, Western Australia.
In 1994 when Trevor Syme bought his farm at Bolgart, Western Australia, 130 kilometres north of Perth, several local growers told him he would go broke because it was the worst farm in the district. Mr Syme, who farms with his wife Renae, was recently recognised as Grain Grower of the Year as part of the GRDC-sponsored Australian Farmer of the Year Awards: “None of those farmers are still farming, but I am, so I reckon I'm doing something right,” he says.
“Even in the driest year, 2010, we still harvested every hectare and had a reasonable crop,” he says. Mr Syme puts this down to a 20-year commitment to no-till farming.
His biggest challenge is non-wetting soils, a problem that affects more than two million hectares of WA. He estimates 80 per cent of his farm has non-wetting soil, and he has treated half of that.
Mr Syme has been experimenting with clay spreading. With about 250 tonnes of clay spread per hectare, it is an expensive process, even though the clay is taken from the same paddock.
The depth of clay varies from 100 millimetres below the surface to one-metre deep. He uses electromagnetic surveying and radiometrics to find it and, depending on the depth, uses either a rotary spader, mouldboard plough or clay delving.
A rotary spader or mouldboard plough are used to invert the soil and bring clay up from a depth of between 250 and 300mm, while clay delving, which is essentially using a big ripper, lifts clay from a depth of 600 to 700mm to then be incorporated.
Mr Syme estimates it costs between $800 and $900/ha. His trial in 2011 showed clay spreading lifted wheat yields from 2 to 3.6t/ha. “And last year in canola it went from 0.5 to 1.1t/ha in a dry year. We paid for it in two years, so now all that extra yield is pure profit.”
Grain grower of the Year Trever Syme, from Bolgart, Western Australia.
PHOTO: Evan Collis
As a long-term no-till grower, Mr Syme concedes delving and spading results in 100 per cent soil disturbance: “But we need to combat the non-wetting issue, then we go back to good no-till, full stubble retention, tram lining, and controlled traffic.”
Ron Creagh from Nungarin, WA, was awarded Biosecurity Farmer of the Year for the plant category. The sign at his farm ‘Tamarua’ asks visitors to first stop at the house. “Respect our farm biosecurity,” it declares. His aim is for 4000 WA wheat farms to be displaying that sign.
“There is no way you would ever just march up into the sheds on a poultry farm or pig farm,” he points out.
Mr Creagh runs 13,000ha, with 10,000ha planted to grain crops.
“Local agronomists know that when we are inspecting crops we would rather go in our vehicles than theirs. It’s always possible that the farm they have just come from has a fungal pathogen.”
His interest in biosecurity began during an outbreak of anthracnose in WA in 1996. “Crops were destroyed and decisions were made on the run. There were no plans in place and it was chaos.”
Mr Creagh was on the Agriculture Protection Board at the time and has served on several biosecurity committees ever since.
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