With our upcoming Main Field Day on Wednesday the 13th of September at Kinnabulla, I’ve been reminiscing about the ideas and strategies, particularly relating to inputs, that I have learnt from previous BCG Field Days and events over the 30 plus years we have been operating.
In the very early days of BCG, I remember learning about the importance of taking deep nitrogen (N) soil tests. Most farmers in the region were already doing zero to ten for N and phosphorus (P) availability but work with BCG, Dr John Angus and Dr Rob Norton among others was showing that deeper soil tests were also important. If we knew what was deeper, we knew what our crop roots were reaching and could therefore more accurately determine how much N we needed to reach the predicted yield potential (using the French and Schultz Water Use Efficiency approach).
Around the same time, we also started learning it was important to test soil constraints for Boron and Sodium as they are the main culprits in our area.
Towards the end of the 90s we learnt through our research that soil water and available nitrogen (nitrate and ammonium) at depths of 60 to 90cm were also important to measure because plant roots were developing to these depths except where there were subsoil limitations. This knowledge, in combination with rainfall deciles during the season, enabled us to set a target yield for our region (back then in an average season around 2.5tonne/ha of wheat).
The research kept evolving, driven by agronomists and eager young scientists working together with local farmers looking for tailored research for their region which could help them weather the ongoing dry years. In the early 2000s BCG became involved with APSIM, and CSIRO scientists Peter Carberry, Zvi Hochman and their team to revolutionise how we set yield targets and therefore make input decisions. While French and Schultz uses a bucket approach, APSIM is a daily basis modelling tool that improves the yield predictions if given precise information on soil type, sowing date, N applications etc.
Being farmers, we were aware that APSIM requires a significant amount of data and so we made the process simpler for farmers and consequently, building on APSIM, Yield Prophet was born.
More recently came James Hunt’s N Bank theory which combines knowledge from APSIM and the early days of soil testing and the bucket approach, simplifying the process even more: basically, if you keep N high and replace what your crops take out of the soil the year before (using soil tests), N will always be high and ready for a good year.
Controlling summer weeds to conserve summer moisture, herbicide and fungicide diagnostic schools, farming systems trials, herbicide resistance trials, grazing and livestock work, cover crops, varieties, soil amelioration, there are so many lessons I have learnt from our Main Field Days and I’m excited by this year’s program, knowing I always have more to learn.
The field day is also a great chance to catch up with other farmers and learn from them. I value these events to meet farmers who I may not have met otherwise. They can also create welcome opportunities whether for business or social.
I feel privileged to be one of the many farmers driving research that benefits farmers across Australia and beyond. Thinking about the amount I have learnt over the years from BCG work, completed in collaboration with science-based organisations such as the CSIRO and universities across Australia as well as government bodies and industry, it is a testament to what can be achieved. Passion, determination and a desire to grow food for the world while endeavouring to leave the land better than we found it really is living the dream.
I look forward to seeing you at our Main Field Day next Wednesday and hearing what you will be implementing following the abundance of local research being presented.