The practice of direct drill or no-till is now well established as an accepted cropping concept, but 30 years ago, it was an idea still in its infancy but determined to be crucial if cropping was to be a sustainable enterprise in any region.
Taking on board the latest technology at the time, a group of farmers in the Merriwagga district, supported by NSW Department of Primary Industry (NSW DPI) under the leadership of then district agronomist Myles Parker and Central West Farming Systems, initiated an on-farm trial in 1999 to test the purpose of direct drill or no-till farming.
Among many aims, they wanted to understand the importance of summer moisture conservation along with efficacy of pre-emergent herbicides in no-till systems.
I think the site has helped foster a massive change toward a more profitable and well structured continuous cropping system
Current leader, Ag Grow Agronomy and Research, director Barry Haskins noted the trial was large scale, with 30 one ha plots and replicated three times.
“The aim was to evaluate the productivity and profitability of no-till farming under various cropping rotations as had been traditionally practiced,” he said.
“The area at the time was dabbling in no-till, and was dominated by the pasture ley/fallow rotation with very little break crop as stock were significant enterprises.”
At the start of the trial the average cropping area per farmer was 2000ha compared to 4000ha today.
“There have been many people admiring the longer term trends that were occurring on the larger scale trial,” Mr Haskins said.
“It’s also attracted many specialist researchers to the area, which has been a great thing for local growers and advisors.
“I think the site has helped foster a massive change toward a more profitable and well structured continuous cropping no-till system in the region and abroad.”
Mr Haskins went further and noted “every problem has a solution” as shown through this trial.
“The outcomes and date generated has shown issues such as weeds, pests and diseases can be overcome with appropriate management strategies,” he said.
No-till trial proves the point at Merriwagga
When the results of the farmer-driven ‘no-till’ trial at Merriwagga were analysed and discussed it was decided not to continue as all the original aims had been satisfied.
Agronomist with Ag Grow Agronomy and Research, Barry Haskins, noted “myself and local growers felt the questions the site had been set up for had been answered, and we could all use our time more wisely elsewhere.”
“In addition, attracting funding is just about impossible,” he said.
“It is unfortunate the site is finishing, as it is one of the few of these trials remaining in Australia that I know of, but in reality it’s not worth continuing something without a real need.”
During the 27 year period of the trial, it has been unfunded apart from some assistance from GRDC looking at specific aspects relevant to their interest in the project.
“The majority of the funding has come through the local farmers and the income the site generates through grain production,” Mr Haskins said.
“Local farmers and myself did a lot of the work uncosted.”
The trial has hosted ‘thousands’ of farmers, and shown Merriwagga district grain growers, “wheat is actually very profitable, low risk, and arguably as profitable as many other rotations if managed appropriately,” according to Mr Haskins.
“No matter what the rotation or tillage method, if things are done on time and well thought through then the difference in production and profitablity is minimal,’ he said.
“In reality, long-tern no-till has offered no major measurable benefits for yield, but is massively much more efficient and has other advantages such as minimising wind erosion and increasingly better weed control.”