Making an on-farm practice change can be a big decision and can vary from a minor change in growing a new variety to a major overhaul of the farming system. Here, Southern Panel member, grower and adviser Bill Long shares his views on implementing practice change and three growers explain the changes they have made
There are several reasons growers will consider a practice change, whether it is to chase higher yields, keep up with the latest technology, or due to social and lifestyle choices. However, actually making the change can be difficult in some cases.
GRDC Southern Panel member, adviser and grower Bill Long, from Ardrossan in South Australia, says there is no one single factor that will drive a practice-change decision.
When assessing whether to make a change on his own farm, he uses a self-developed framework with five key factors – relative advantage, simplicity, trial-ability, observability and compatibility – to help determine the benefits and likelihood of adoption.
“Firstly, a practice change has to have a clear relative advantage over what I am already doing, such as making the job easier or economically better,” he says. “Financial reasons would be the primary reason to look at a change.
“The simplicity of the change is also important. Simple technology changes are more easily adopted than something more complex and difficult to understand.”
A new practice must also have the ability to be trialled on-farm, Mr Long says.
“For example, it is easy to trial a new variety on your farm,” he says. “There are a lot of on-farm trials growers can do in regard to nutrition, such as nitrogen-rich strips or phosphorus-rich strips, where they can just turn up the rate on one strip and see if there is a response.
“Another factor I consider is observability or the timeframe before seeing an actual benefit. For example, liming low-pH soils might take three to four years before there is any benefit. Growing a new variety has a time frame of 10 months.”
He also says a new idea has to be compatible with current thinking.
“Again, using the example of adopting a new variety, that might be for a yield gain or genetic trait such as disease resistance, which would be compatible with most growers’ thinking,” Mr Long says.
According to Mr Long, advisers have been one of the biggest influencers of practice change in the past 20 years as the advisory sector is there to support growers in the decision-making process.
“More complex decisions often require a ‘significant other’ to help with the process,” he says.
“Advisers have had a huge influence in technology adoption over the past 20 years and will continue to do so because they act as a significant other in the decision-making process and are there to assist when things might get difficult.”
HWSM pre-empts resistance
Practice change: harvest weed-seed management
Bruce Heddle: Minnipa, SA
PHOTO: Bruce McEvoy
Implementing a harvest weed-seed management (HWSM) strategy came out of necessity on two fronts for South Australian grower Bruce Heddle.
Bruce runs a mixed-farming enterprise cropping wheat and canola across 1200 hectares of his 1750ha farm, while also running 700 Merino breeding ewes at Minnipa on the Upper Eyre Peninsula.
He and neighbour Stuart Scholz first experimented with harvest chaff collection in drought year (1994) to supplementary feed Stuart’s beef cattle.
“At that stage we hadn’t cottoned onto the benefits of HWSM,” Bruce says. “What was amazing was in the years that followed we noticed a massive difference in weed burden on that paddock compared with others.”
It was not until more than a decade later when Bruce and Stuart revisited their 1994 experience and evaluated the benefits of using chaff to feed stock and the reduced weed burden that they decided to get more serious about it.
Since then, HWSM has been a constant for Bruce across all his crops.
Their chaff cart can be used in several ways.
“We can use it in the normal manner, in that it just takes the chaff output from the chaffer, but we can also take the total output of the harvester,” Bruce says.
“We can also place the rotor output into a narrow windrow to be burnt while the chaffer output goes into the cart.
“The contribution of HWSM and collecting chaff to the livestock enterprise is a very important component of what we are trying to do.
“Herbicide resistance is an as-yet small issue to us, and we want to keep it that way. I know it’s a reality but it has not raised its head extensively on our property yet because we haven’t let it. Rather than waiting for herbicide resistance to bite, we want to be on the front foot against it.”
PA shows promise
Practice change: yield mapping and variable rate
Greg Gibson: Hagley, Tasmania
PHOTO: Sarah Gilbert
Tasmanian mixed-farmer Greg Gibson is not averse to trying something new if he feels it has a fit in his operation.
Growing wheat, canola, poppies, ryegrass seed, seed potatoes, carrot seed and processing peas at Hagley, Greg has recently shown a strong interest in precision agriculture to tailor inputs for his crops.
He is in the process of building and stacking data over a range of seasons so he can apply fertiliser inputs at variable rates across his farm depending on soil type.
“We have been using GPS guidance for a long time and I do contract harvesting so I have been yield mapping for other growers and just saw it as a natural progression from that,” Greg says.
Greg was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship in 2014, which he used to study drainage techniques with the aim of increasing production on non-performing ground through better water management.
This experience opened his eyes to the array of technology available to give growers more control over inputs.
He also conducts on-farm trials to guide his decision-making about whether to adopt a new practice, looking at fertilisers and technology such as strip-tilling.
“Time of sowing is crucial for us because we grow so many different crops. So we always consider the seasons and moisture availability and trial different timings around that,” he says.
Improved irrigation means improved agronomy
Practice change: grain growing/irrigation layout
Stuart Hodge: Numurkah, Victoria
PHOTO: Alistair Lawson
After 20 years of dairy farming, Stuart Hodge had had enough.
At the height of the Millennium Drought in 2008 his farm at Numurkah in northern Victoria was not saleable.
“As a dairy, the farm needed an injection of capital and enthusiasm and
I wasn’t prepared to give it,” Stuart says.
So in April 2008 his cows were sold and he made the move into
In the eight years since that landmark decision, Stuart and wife Kate have more than doubled the size of the farm to the point where they are growing wheat, barley, canola and faba beans across 1200 hectares under irrigation.
He says educating himself in the business and agronomy of grain growing has been ongoing, something that is helped through his membership of the Irrigated Cropping Council (ICC). As part of this, he regularly hosts
trials for ICC.
Stuart says the biggest change since getting into grain growing has been redeveloping the flood irrigation system on the farm.
“Through grants from the Australian Government’s On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program we have built a fast-flow, high-capacity flood irrigation system and increased the slope of the landscape to improve irrigation efficiency, drainage and productivity, as well as automating the whole system,” he says.
According to Stuart, they immediately saw benefits from the upgrades.
“We are using much less water and it is giving us more flexibility about how we establish certain crops,” he says. “The upgrades allow us to dry-sow canola and wet it up after, whereas previously we would pre-irrigate and sow after.
“By doing that we are getting better establishment and full use of the moisture.”
Bill Long, 0417 803 034, firstname.lastname@example.org
Agronomic management helps get around ‘frostration’