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Episode 4: Target 50 Series | Improving production on sands to improve ground cover with Michael Moodie

June 25, 2020 - 6:11 pm

TARGET 50 Podcast Series – decision making to keep ground cover in the system! Improving production on sands to improve ground cover with Michael Moodie, Frontier Farming Systems (MSF’s Key Research Agronomist).

Michael provides an update on:

Break throughs on sandy soil improvements 
How we get our sands to perform to maintain enough ground cover
Should we be managing sandy areas differently to ensure we keep ground cover in the system?
Plus much more!

Handy resources: 
https://msfp.org.au/break-crops-respond-to-deep-ripping-on-sandy-soils/
https://msfp.org.au/publications/msf-stubble-guide/

#MSFFarmTalk #Target50

We thank our Target 50 project partners, Agriculture Victoria for your support.

TEGAN BUCKLEY: – G’day and welcome back to the MSF Farm Talk podcast. MSF is involved in the GRDC sandy soils project that consists of a research site in its final years and numerous sands impact demo sites and validation trials across the Mallee. Michael Moodie and the Frontier Farming Systems team have been doing a lot of work establishing the sites and implementing the treatments on trying to improve production on Mallee sands over the last four to five years. This is of course a Target 50 podcast episode, so it’s all about ground cover and maintaining 50% ground cover in the system. But this can be hard to do on some soil types, particularly sandy soils that are generally low in fertility and don’t hold much soil moisture and they generally struggle to establish and grow productive crops. So to give us a rundown on how to improve sandy soil so that we can improve our ground cover, we’re joined again by Michael Moodie from Frontier Farming systems. Welcome back Michael Moodie from Frontier Farming Systems, we’re talking about improving sandy soils to improve groundcover. So Michael you’ve been working on sandy soil improvements for many years now, have you had any breakthroughs?

MICHAEL MOODIE: – G’day and welcome back to the MSF Farm Talk podcast. MSF is involved in the GRDC sandy soils project that consists of a research site in its final years and numerous sands impact demo sites and validation trials across the Mallee. Michael Moodie and the Frontier Farming Systems team have been doing a lot of work establishing the sites and implementing the treatments on trying to improve production on Mallee sands over the last four to five years. This is of course a Target 50 podcast episode, so it’s all about ground cover and maintaining 50% ground cover in the system. But this can be hard to do on some soil types, particularly sandy soils that are generally low in fertility and don’t hold much soil moisture and they generally struggle to establish and grow productive crops. So to give us a rundown on how to improve sandy soil so that we can improve our ground cover, we’re joined again by Michael Moodie from Frontier Farming systems. Welcome back Michael Moodie from Frontier Farming Systems, we’re talking about improving sandy soils to improve groundcover. So Michael you’ve been working on sandy soil improvements for many years now, have you had any breakthroughs?

TEGAN BUCKLEY: – Yeah, that’s for sure. So how do we get our sands to perform to maintain enough ground cover? And should we be managing these areas any different?

MICHAEL MOODIE: – Yeah, like I said, deep ripping being a proven winner basically for increasing crop yield and also biomass, but along the way I guess, initially in this early phase, it’s also a risk as well. So we know that if we get it right, then we’re going to have a better crop and we’re going to have more biomass and that biomass will hopefully translate into more ground cover and soil protection for that soil along the way. What we’re finding is there’s a lot of challenges in initially establishing that crop back into that deep ripped ground. So while we see potential benefits in the long term, in the short term, there’s actually probably increased risk of soil erosion and low ground cover on some of these soils where farmers are trying to establish a crop. So that’s a bit of a concern, but it’s also something that we are working on from a research point of view at the moment. So I guess some of the things, that we’re sort of tackling is looking at whether re rolling that surface and trying to sort of reconsolidate that surface out after rolling is having some benefits. We’re also looking at different ripper setups, so some rippers may sort of leave the surface a bit more consolidated and a bit more easier to traffic than other rippers. So they’re two things that we’re looking at in research this year, we’re also looking into the future of investigating different seeding systems set ups as well to try and improve how that crop establishes and reduce the risk of erosion happening during that initial establishment phase.

TEGAN BUCKLEY: – Yeah, fantastic, so you’ve talked about a few different options for improving and managing sands. How do you know or how will farmers know what option is going to best fit them?

MICHAEL MOODIE: – I guess the issue of underperforming sands has been like a pretty big problem that’s been identified for a long time. So we know that these sands are out there and like I said, ripping has been very consistent across a wide landscape in the Mallee, so we’ve seen responses occurring on white sands, yellow sands, red sand, so quite a wide range of soils. So, there’s probably a reasonable likelihood of that responding, but there’s plenty of things that farmers can get out and do to actually try and understand diagnose their problems. So I’d be encouraging people to get hold of some sort of soil cone penetrometer device, these can be quite cheap and simple as easy as a push rod. Or you can get you know, for a few thousand dollars quite an elaborate sensor-based instruments, which will give you really high accurate data to sort of quantify the extent of compaction issues or soil resistant issues. So that’s something that really farmers should be looking to do, is to go out there and find out what areas have got hardened and resistant soil underneath. The other thing I’d be checking though is whether there’s other things that can be done to overcome the problem and one of the key things is non-wetting sands. So, non-wetting sands obviously crop establishment is compromised in these sands and it takes a lot to wet the sands up and get the crop established. So to me, one of the first things I’d be doing if you had that situation, I’d be also looking to try and do something about that non-wetting sandy soil as a priority as well. So, whether that was things like spading, whether that was things like high work rate plow techniques or one of the most proven techniques has also been changing seeding systems to sow on last year’s row, rather than going into row sowing. So in those situations, getting your establishment right and overcoming that non-wetting sand issue is a priority. So identifying those areas as a priority, the next step is to look and say, well, what other things can we diagnose in your soil? More often to not we’re finding that hard layer deep down in the profile and that’s quite economically being addressed by deep ripping, but then there’s other things we might want to look at as well. One of the things with deep ripping is it increases our yield potential, so then we actually need to be making sure we’ve got our nutrition strategies right to actually make the requirements of the new yield potential that’s given to you by the soil amelioration process. So we need to be understanding what level of nutrients in the soil prior to seeding, so we can make appropriate nutrition decisions as the season goes on as well. And also getting out there and just diagnosing, you know, the more normal constraints that we associate with sands, making sure that trace elements aren’t holding us back, making sure that our phosphorus and sulfur levels are up to scratch. So they’re the key things that farmers really should be diving in and considering with whether they need to do something about their sands or not.

TEGAN BUCKLEY: – After four years of research, have you managed to find the answers to sandy soils improvement and what’s the next phase of this project?

MICHAEL MOODIE: – So after I guess the first four years, I’ve got a high level of confidence in the benefits of those physical actions in improving the sandy soils. So like I said, deep ripping processes, reducing the soil of resistance, getting big, both yield and biomass benefits from those. Obviously, the results from soil inversion and spading techniques on non-wetting soils are very encouraging as well. The next phase is trying to untangle some of those practical issues for the farmers about how do they go about implementing those processes without having a negative impact. So I’ve talked before about the challenges that farmers are facing trying to establish a crop into newly ripped ground so, trying to look at some of the solutions for those. And another feature of our work has also been the addition of inputs be they organic imports or high level of fertilizer inputs. Within some trials we’ve seen great results to things like chicken litter edition, but it’s been quite inconsistent across the trials that we’ve run. So one of the things that I would begin to try and do in the future is trying to understand more about why in some cases, you know, things like chicken litter are having a very big response. But then in other cases their responses is quite small or inconsistent. So that’s something that we believe that we could focus on and potentially, with the potential we’ll try and unlock some further benefits to further increase the productivity gains that we’re getting on these soils.

TEGAN BUCKLEY: – So in summary, can you recap maybe a few of your top takeaways on how we can best build ground cover moving forward on sand?

MICHAEL MOODIE: – Yeah, so the key takeaways is to understand the problems you’ve got, whether if it’s a non-wetting soil, then we need to address that first before we try and address anything else. We also need to understand that a lot of these Mallee soils have high resistance in the root zone and therefore, if that’s the case going through deep ripping these soils has been beneficial more often than not. So it’s going to be a quite reliable practice, the benefits that we’re seeing after deep ripping have been quite significant, returning upwards of one or two ton per hectare over the life of the ripping process. It’s not only producing more grain yield but it’s also producing more biomass and obviously this biomass is going to be quite beneficial in increasing the protection of these quite vulnerable soils as well. So we believe that not only are we going to have short time productivity benefits, these processes also have the potential to bring long-term soil health benefits by improving the system and making these soils more sustainable into the future.

TEGAN BUCKLEY: – Thank you for sharing with us your wealth of knowledge on improving production on sands to improve ground cover, it’s a pleasure having you on the podcast.

MICHAEL MOODIE: – Great, thank you.

TEGAN BUCKLEY: – Don’t forget to share this episode with a mate, if you took some value away from it and be sure to subscribe, rate and review our podcast. Thanks for tuning in and we’ll catch you in the next episode.