Caption: Kumbia farmer Peter Howlett is an advocate of strip tillage and and controlled traffic farming systems.
Strip tillage faming is leading to healthier soil structure, exceptional tilth and increased peanut yield and quality for Kumbia famer Peter Howlett.
After first observing strip tillage eight years ago, Mr Howlett became convinced the farming approach would lead to prosperity for his business.
Mr Howlett said with the systems he now has in place he’s expecting 2.5 tonne per hectare on dry land and over double that yield with his irrigated peanut crops.
“A number of years ago I saw a few neighbours using controlled traffic and strip tillage systems on their paddocks with really good results,” Mr Howlett said.
“I grew up on a conventional farm so I thought I would change tack and invest in a strip-till machine and GPS for our tractors.
“Eight years later, I am really happy that we made the switch as I am seeing real benefits in our soil structure, we have beautiful tilth and our water infiltration is much better.
“It’s amazing how the water dissipates into the soil structure instead of inundating our paddocks after a heavy storm. I think that alone is a big plus from strip tillage.”
Mr Howlett is one of a number of growers in the region undertaking peanut variety strip tillage trials through the Australian Peanut Genetic Improvement Program funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
Located just outside of Kingaroy, Mr Howlett and his wife Robyn farm a 160-hectare mixed cropping operation of peanuts, mungbeans, navy beans, corn and opportune wheat in winter.
Mr Howlett said adopting controlled traffic farming (CTF) was the first step to implementing a strip till system. He said CTF was crucial to the tilling process as the remainder of his paddocks were left undisturbed, leading to retained soil moisture and the prevention of unnecessary erosion.
BGA AgriServices Senior Agronomist Ian Crosthwaite, who has been overseeing the trials through his role with the GRDC’s Inland Burnett Grower Solutions Group, said the practice delivered additional advantage by ripping deep into the soil to allow for fertilising at depth prior to sowing.
“With the advent of CTF and GPS, farmers are able drive along the same rip lines instead of fertilising and planting on the surface of their paddocks,” Mr Crosthwaite said.
“We can now rip down to 25cm, place our fertiliser in pre-plant at depth and then come back and sow into those same rip lines.”
Mr Crosthwaite said the first year of strip tillage usually demanded a high output of horsepower but the burden on machinery would dramatically decrease in successive years of strip tilling.
“You’re cutting through a lot of the compaction zone and in some situations you can see the difference in year one, but the big difference starts to come in years 2, 3 and 4 when compaction between the rows are definitively reduced,” Mr Crosthwaite said.
The trials have also been testing eight different peanut varieties, including two new varieties, which measure yield and quality over several seasons in the region.
“We are growing a number of varieties on our property. I suppose the benchmark varieties are probably Middleton, Holt, Redvale, Page, Wheeler and Fisher but we’re also growing two new varieties,” Mr Howlett said.
“I’ll be measuring the short season varieties against Redvale, because when we have a dry year a short season variety obviously requires less rainfall.”
Mr Crosthwaite said the trials were also exploring different sclerotinia management strategies by applying different fungicides on the trial plots, some of which were not currently registered for sclerotinia management.
“We are identifying products that could be used to fight sclerotinia that we might either get a permit to use or have them registered for this type of disease management,” he said.
“It’s difficult to predict when you’re actually going to get this problem and that’s half the issue. Even when a fungicide is used early in a crop’s life, there is no guarantee these paddocks won’t end up with sclerotinia anyway – it really depends on seasonal conditions,” Mr Crosthwaite said.
Michael Thomson, Cox Inall Communications
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