Efficiency drive leads to farm profit turnaround

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Diminished returns for grain commodities in the past 10 years have tested the resilience of many farmers, but the market decline has had a silver lining for the Nolan family’s mixed-farming operation in south-west Queensland.

The downward trend in grain prices led the family – Shaun Nolan, his wife Amanda, and parents John and Elizabeth – to make an all-out push on efficiency in every aspect of the business. The outcome has been a 150 per cent lift in the farm’s business turnover.

Man kneeling in grain crop

The winner of the GRDC-sponsored 2011
Grains Innovation Award, Shaun Nolan, has
overseen a mix of changes that have more
than doubled his family’s net income from
their farm business.

PHOTO: Clarisa Collis

Winner of the GRDC-sponsored 2011 Queensland Grains Innovation Award, Shaun says the main increase in net income and profitability across grain, forage and cattle production has come from a mix of initiatives, new facilities, machinery, technology and practices.

Among the changes since 2003 are satellite-guided controlled traffic farming (CTF); use of cattle manure as an alternative nutrient source; new facilities for grain storage, aeration, drying and loading; and moves to agist part of their cattle herd.

Shaun says outlaying $100,000 on two 200-tonne silos, a Vertec continuous-flow grain dryer and high-flow aerators has provided the greatest return on investment. Aside from recouping their expenditure in only one year, the equipment has contributed to more than half of the spike in their business bottom line, mostly by allowing them to harvest crops at higher moisture levels and avoid price penalties for weather-damaged grain.

He says investing in equipment for loading dry grain into silo bags has also freed their new grain-drying facilities and removed a step in the conventional bulk-handling system – saving $30/t in costs for sorghum, chickpeas, wheat and sunflowers.

Yield mapping also shows that satellite-guided CTF has provided a five per cent yield increase in grain and forage production.

Shaun calculates this precision approach has generated an extra $32/ha from cropping areas where wheel tracks have been excluded.

Yield mapping and GRDC-supported research on the Nolans’ property has also prompted the family to avoid growing chickpeas over a third of their sodic country, enabling them to overcome a 1t/ha yield penalty caused by subsoil salts.

An additional measure contributing to the viability of their farm business is the practice of applying animal manure to improve soil health and optimise yield potential on their sodic soil once every six years.

Shaun says the alternative nutrient source means they can scale back their urea and starter fertiliser costs by up to $100/ha, while lifting grain and forage yields by up to 1t/ha in the first year after spreading manure. 

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