Growers go on mouldboard fact finding mission

Date: 30 Jul 2012

Stuart Smart mouldboard ploughing

Mouldboard ploughing has been embraced by many growers in Western Australia’s northern grainbelt to help manage non-wetting soils and weeds, but is it suitable for growers in the state’s southern cropping regions?

A small group of southern growers and researchers recently participated in a tour to address this question and gather information about other practices to manage water repellent soils.

The tour was instigated through the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s (GRDC) Regional Cropping Solutions (RCS) initiative and led by RCS facilitator Julianne Hill.

The group visited the Mingenew farm of grower Stuart Smart, who this year mouldboard ploughed 1500 hectares of land, and has used mouldboarding as a tool for three years.

With the West Midlands Group, the delegation inspected GRDC-supported non-wetting soils trials at the Badgingarra property of Colin McAlpine.

The group also travelled to the Pingrup farm of Paul Hicks who is developing a seeding system to alleviate non-wetting soils.

Lake Grace farmer Mark Pearce concluded there are no ‘silver bullets’ for management of non-wetting soils.

“Mouldboard ploughing is a very effective tool for both weed seed control and non-wetting management,” he said.

“Correctly managed, it is possible to establish a crop on a mouldboarded paddock in the first year which has potential to make the operation break even or close to.

“The soil in Mingenew is very deep which is different to the soil types around where I farm.

“It surprised me how the Badgingarra sands are very non-wetting even in such high rainfall.”

Mr Pearce said the type of seeding machine used could make a big difference in managing non-wetting soils, but results seemed to vary between seasons.

Mouldboard ploughMt Madden farmer Lloyd Burrell noted the potential for wind erosion after mouldboard ploughing.

“I learnt that mouldboard ploughing looks exactly the same as clearing new land minus the stumps and rocks!”  he said.

“Very, very wind prone ... scary!”

Grass Patch farmer Michael Ietto said he learnt that you don’t just go into a paddock and start mouldboard ploughing without adequate preparation.

“You have to get it set up right to make sure that it turns over the soil right, otherwise you're just wasting your time,” he said.

“After this trip I would like to try mouldboard ploughing on the deep sand on my property and spading on the sands that are 10 to 14 inches deep to mix up some clay with it.”

Fiona Hobley, of Nyabing, said burying non-wetting soil and weed seeds with mouldboard ploughs was alleviating non-wetting and weed issues.

“However, overcoming the non-wetting issue is not a simple task with one solution,” she said.

GRDC western regional chairman Peter Roberts said there was a belief among farmers that mouldboard ploughing was unsuitable in the southern grainbelt due to different soil types and the risks surrounding wind erosion.

“But after seeing first-hand the results achieved from mouldboard ploughing in the northern grainbelt, I believe further investigation of this option is warranted in helping to address non-wetting soils in southern regions,” he said.

Mr Roberts said the GRDC was investing significant funds into projects aimed at improving crop profitability from non-wetting soils, and was keen to extend to all growers the knowledge generated from research and grower experience.

“The GRDC supports two major five-year projects in WA which are investigating potential solutions to water repellence,” he said.

“These include a project led by Stephen Davies, of the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA), which aims to enable growers to identify their water repellent soils, choose which management option best suits their needs and is likely to be economically sensible.

“A project led by Margaret Roper of CSIRO is complementing the DAFWA research by exploring management techniques promoting water infiltration into non-wetting soils.”

Mr Roberts said that in addition, five smaller GRDC-funded trials investigating non-wetting soils, and management tools to address them, were taking place in the western part of the Kwinana Port Zone.

“The one-year trials were initiated after four out of five GRDC RCS networks in WA identified non-wetting soils as a priority for local growers,” he said.

The RCS initiative aims to reduce the time it takes for new varieties, practices and technologies to be adopted, with the ultimate aim being to increase the profitability of the Australian grains industry.

GRDC natural resources senior manager Martin Blumenthal warned that mouldboard ploughing was a high risk activity from a soil erosion point of view.

“Remember that the soil is our most precious resource”, Dr Blumenthal said.

“Ground cover protects soil from erosion and it is important to maintain ground cover for as much of the year as possible.

“If mouldboard ploughing has to be used, do it at a time that will still maximise annual ground cover and when wind erosion is a lower risk."


PHOTO CAPTION: Mingenew grower Stuart Smart speaks with southern farmers and researchers about seeding technique following mouldboard ploughing.

PHOTO CAPTION: A mouldboard plough in action.

GRDC project code: DAW00204 & CSP139


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Contact: Natalie Lee
Cox Inall Communications
08 9864 2034; 0427 189 827