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Maximising crop rotations

A Nuffield scholarship will help a Pine Lodge farmer put his ideas on double cropping to the international test.

GEOFF ADAMS January 15, 2013 4:02am

David Cook Nuffield Scholar at his Pine Lodge property.


Plant more crops in the annual rotation to increase soil moisture and organic health?

It sounds counter to what you’d expect, but Pine Lodge farmer David Cook is already getting good results from double cropping on his dryland property and will soon travel overseas to gather more information to support a new approach.

Mr Cook has been awarded a Nuffield Scholarship for 2013 which will first see him travel with other scholars to the United States, France, Ireland, the Philippines and China and then visit South America, Canada, Europe and return to the US to pursue his specific interests in crop rotations and cover crops including nutrient availability and fertiliser application.

Having seen crop rotations in many areas of Australia narrow in the past decade as a result of droughts and a subsequent lack of confidence in production capacity and profitability of rotation crops, Mr Cook made a decision several years ago to try to give his operation more flexibility.

‘‘I converted our seeding operation in 2009 to a full stubble retention system with a no-till cross-slot seeder, which has a combination of disc and tines.

‘‘I then started looking at the possibility of opportunistic summer crops, to both increase the seeding window and to increase the number of crops in our rotation,’’ Mr Cook said.

A trial of summer crops was run on his property and he has successfully grown commercial seed millet crops in the past two years, taking advantage of unseasonal rain.

‘‘The trial showed us that we could grow summer crops and get them through to harvest.

‘‘Growing the millet was profitable. The gross margin cleared more than we have ever grossed from a winter crop.’’

In addition, the following winter crops also appear to have benefited from the extra crop.

Mr Cook believes the practice could generate more organic matter and help keep microbial activity going in the soil, which helps nutrient availability.

Although the extra crop consumes soil moisture, he points out there is significant moisture loss on summer fallow anyway.

He is planning to use various cover crops when conditions are suitable, including seeding into canola and faba bean stubbles during harvest.

‘‘One of the main aims of the cover crops, especially in the canola and faba bean stubbles, is to produce a level of residue that can store any early autumn rain through to when we start seeding in April,’’ Mr Cook said.

He hopes to use his Nuffield Scholarship to gain a better understanding of the relationships between crop rotations and nutrient availability under different farming systems and how they are relevant to Australian systems.

‘‘I’d also like to assess alternative fertiliser strategies, including the CULTAN application system used overseas, where nutrients are injected into the ground via a spoked wheel — a technique that could be applied to dryland, irrigated and direct-seeded rice crops in Australia.’’

A foundation member of the Riverine Plains group, Mr Cook will publish his findings and speak to farming groups when he returns.

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