In 1993, Ralph Valler, from Chinchilla, Queensland, was one of the first grain growers to use the N-Jector, a device that enabled him to apply anhydrous ammonia with seeds.“If you put anhydrous ammonia near the seed it will kill it. This device kept it away because of the shape of the point,” he explains.
The device also meant that Mr Valler, who had moved to zero-till in 1988, reduced soil disturbance. “It worked very well. We got some good crops after that.”
But 10 years later, yields started going backwards. In the search for other ways to improve his soil, Mr Valler started trialling microbes. He set up a comparison.
He says the crop treated with anhydrous ammonia and top-dressed with urea “looked spectacular” until just before harvest, when it collapsed. But the crop grown in the soil treated with microbes yielded twice as much, with better filled grain. “That started to swing me towards microbes. We started having some positive results after that and I have been on them ever since.”
While Mr Valler relies on the microbes to make nitrogen, he also suspects they have other benefits. In 2010 they set a new record for dryland cotton, in a double skip configuration. “We took off 3.5 bales to the acre.”
He says an agronomist handpicking bolls to estimate yield commented, “‘these plants look like they need nothing, they have everything they want’. I just put that down to microbes”.
Mr Valler would like to see more research into biological activity in the soil. He has also trialled liquid fertilisers, aided by his son Malcolm, who came back to the farm four years ago. “He is a boilermaker, so he does maintenance on the farm and redesigns machinery.”
In the early days Mr Valler enjoyed a lot of support from the Department of Primary Industries and local farmer groups.
But times have changed. These days he says he relies more on information from other local farmers and the GRDC through Ground Cover.
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