Last year a very small cropping trial got under way on the Jones family farm at Manangatang in the Victorian Mallee.
Over the next four years small will become much bigger as this radical row-farming system is assessed at a number of sites in the district.
Project manager is Ben Jones who, with support from growers and the Federal Government through the GRDC, and Agriculture Victoria, is investigating whether it is feasible to change the way Mallee country is farmed.
"Currently farmers are using a fallow to reduce diseases and weeds so that they can grow a crop every second or third year," Mr Jones explained.
"The problems are that you get a low return from the fallow because the land is out of production; you lose a lot of water and nutrients in the fallow period and, of course, there is the potential for wind erosion."
Broadcast seeding and 'alley' fallows together
To try to overcome these problems, Mr Jones and his colleagues from the Mallee Research Station will sow cereal seed in a randomly scattered way in 30 cm rows using specialised seeding equipment. The aim will be to achieve a closed canopy in the rows to minimise weed competition.
Alongside each 30 cm row of growing crop will be a row of 'fallow', about 50 cm wide, with these inter-row spaces to be sown the following year.
"Yield does not decrease proportionally as row spacing increases because plants compensate for being further apart by producing more tillers and rooting between the rows," Mr Jones said.
The bonus is that the rotation effect is obtained by keeping the inter-row Tallow' and sowing it the following year.
Mr Jones sees advantages in this novel system because:
- decisions on whether to apply more fertiliser, given favourable seasonal conditions, could be delayed until July-September when fertiliser could be drilled in beside the crop row
- weeds could be controlled by inter-row cultivation or by shrouded boom equipment
- the potential exists to grow pulse and oilseed crops more successfully as moisture availability to plants would be increased
- the risk of erosion would be reduced, while crops would make better use of available rainfall and help to reduce re-charge.
Mr Jones realises that such a system would be a challenge to implement on a broad scale, but says advances are being made in precision guidance systems for tractors and other farm machinery.
"Our aim is to have the agronomy right by the time these systems are available and affordable," he said.
To achieve this, Mr Jones will be comparing the new concept with conventional Mallee farming systems in trials at Manangatang, Werrimul, Walpeup and Birchip. As well, there will be smaller-scale trials to evaluate issues such as the effect of row width, inter-row spacing, row direction and sowing rates on yields.
Program 3.5.2 Contact: Mr Ben Jones 03 5091 7200