Pasture phase the key

LEFT: Greg Rankin sees the pasture phase as "a period of credits in the soil health bank".

Greg Rankin, a TOPCROP farmer from Mitiamo, north of Bendigo in Victoria, believes that healthy high-yielding crops begin when the pasture phase is planted.

"Pastures are planted with the last crop of a rotation," he says. "The pasture phase is a time when soil nutrient levels can be bolstered through applied phosphorus and fixed atmospheric nitrogen.

"It is also the period when levels of organic matter should be increasing. Organic matter aids soil structure and acts as a slow-release nutrient reserve during the crop phase."

Mr Rankin says ideally the pasture phase will contain a high legume content to raise soil nitrate levels. It should also aim to improve such soil structural characteristics as drainage and organic content. He supports deep-rooted perennial pastures which break deep into the subsoil, recycling nutrients and creating pores for future root and water movement.