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Rewards from Changing Farming Practices

21 December 2010

The only constant on Craig and Helen Reynolds' farm at Congupna in Victoria, Australia is change.

The couple have reaped significant rewards from employing new technologies and farming practices on their property, according to grdc.com.au.

Today they farm an expanded 795 hectare cropping enterprise, with yields far in excess of what they had ever considered possible from their clay loam soils. Formerly a beef cattle, irrigated operation, with a small portion of summer cropping, the farm now hosts a swag of summer and winter crop varieties and outperforms the former enterprise on nearly every level.

Through improved water efficiency, controlled weed, pest and disease management and by trialing new varieties, the Reynolds have been able to gain a whole lot more out of their business. Big changes came in 1998 following a Grains Research and Development Corporation Topcrop meeting discussing water use efficiency. The information set Craig thinking and on return to the farm, he sat down and completed a small equation.

"I worked out that our average rainfall of 500 millimetres falling on 400ha equated to 2000 megalitres of underutilised water â€" I was astounded," Reynolds said.

This realisation completely reset their focus and farm management is now based on storing and utilising this resource from soil management to crops grown. Through remote sensor moisture data they are able to track soil moisture levels on the hour, which is a lot more detailed and useful than checking moisture by seeing how far a shovel goes in, says Reynolds.

Experimentation has underwritten management.

Faced with hard-setting soils, prone to compaction and low yielding crops limited by water holding capacity, Reynolds tried something different. "Through stubble retention, direct drilling and controlled traffic, the soils are now better able to capture and store available moisture."

Benefits have flown on. Soil infiltration rates have improved dramatically from 30 millimetres to 70mm. In turn, this has resulted in a dramatic lift in yields and increased flexibility within the cropping program.

"In 1990 we would aim for 3.5 tonnes a hectare wheat yield and once got 5t/ha which I thought was marvellous," he said. "Now we aim for 7t/ha and have achieved 8t/ha â€" even my father admits it's a change for the better."

By 2000, the Reynolds pushed their business further by integrating the farming system to better suit their property, its ability to crop and their desire to improve soils and retain stubbles. Reynolds says they grow high yielding crops within a system of integrated pest management, weed control, fertiliser application, crop rotations, stubble management and inter-row sowing.

They have also adopted innovations in stored grain technology and trialled plant growth regulators in high value cereals, as well as a variety of new grain varieties. While business adaptation does not come cheap, spending now for future benefit has proved a worthwhile expense.

"Our business is now doing 10 times the turn-over and most importantly we've been able to lift our farm profit," Reynolds said.

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