When Millewa farmer Ron Hards first heard about no-till farming, he admits he was sceptical. Farming in a district with average annual rainfall of just 250mm, Ron and his family had experienced first-hand the challenges of cropping in the Millewa. It was a time when wind erosion and dust storms were a farmer’s worst enemy, while rain from summer thunderstorms didn’t sink in, but instead washed the valuable topsoil straight off the paddocks.
While looking for alternative farming methods that could improve production, Ron met South Australian farmers who had adopted no-till sustainable farming techniques with success in similar sandy soils.
Despite that, Ron said he firmly believed back then that no-till wouldn’t work in his own, drier district.
It was the work of Mallee Sustainable Farming in running local trials of no-till techniques and proving their viability that finally convinced him to make the change.
‘MSF encouraged people to try something,’ he said.
‘I think it was the fear of the unknown that was the big thing.
‘If you don’t know what is going to happen, if you are going to spend big money changing your plant or trying new varieties and you have an outlay, you want to be pretty sure that you will get a return.’
Seeing the outcomes of MSF’s research and extension efforts showed Ron, and other Mallee farmers, that such a big change could really pay off.
MSF’s research, he said, established the financial case for no-till, as well as the farming case.
‘We were one of the first to go no-till, we’d mucked around for a while trying to reduce tillage, using a bit of Roundup during the summer and spraying out summer weeds,’ Ron said.
He bit the bullet and invested in new machinery – and the results have delivered a big turnaround for both the farm business and the land itself.
‘The land is rebuilding,’ he said.
‘The fertility, the friability, ease of cultivation for seeding – it is so much easier now than what it was.