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Initial Trials Prove Successful

ONE Wimmera farmer is seeing results this harvest after experimenting alternative methods on his barley crop with the help of a La Trobe researcher. 

Wilkur Farmer Calvin Muller is seeing signs of success after working alongside Latrobe Agricultural Researcher Dr John Russell to trial more natural techniques. 

After increasing aeration in the soil and adding a biological amendment, Dr Russell has found both the quality of the roots and the quantity of the yield had improved. 

Earlier this year Dr Russell analysed the root systems of the barley crop and found it was substantially healthier. 

They also found the soil was far easier to penetrate than their control soil. 

Dr Russell returned recently to conduct more tests, where they are finding promising results.

Dr Russell has indicated at least a 15 percent increase in yield of the crop so far. 

Mr Muller said he chose to work with Dr Russell because he wanted to reduce the need for sprays and produce a more organic crop. 

“The farmers seem to think they need to buy something all the time - all the things they’re putting on are available naturally at no costs,” Mr Muller said. 

“We need to go back to the natural way of farming. That will give healthy crops and healthy people.” 

Mr Muller has worked as a farmer for his whole life, he said over the years he has continually strived to grow as naturally as he can. 

From his experience he has seen weeds become more resistant to chemical sprays. 

He said giving the plant a healthy foundation, planting in fertile soil should reduce weeds, disease and improve the quality of the crop and it’s root system. 

“Weeds are getting more prevalent because the low fertility of the land is decreasing all the time. We have to spray more with chemical sprays, and it’s getting more so because it’s getting more difficult to kill weeds,” he said. 

“Some of the applications are up to seven different types of sprays to kill the difficult types of weeds. It takes a lot of the nutrients out of the paddock.

“Weeds like low fertility, crops like high fertility; fertility has been decreasing every year. We’re requiring higher concentrated sprays and as we do that we’re taking more out of the soil.” 

Dr Russell will be conducting further laboratory analysis to understand the full scope of their efforts after Mr Muller completes his harvester monitoring trials, whereby he will measure the overall results of three different trials. 

Through their trials they have segmented 35 acres of barley crop into three sections. The first 12 acres is the control (C), which is using traditional farming methods, while the middle section (A) of the crop has been aerated.

The last 12 acres of crop (B) they have aerated the soil while incorporating biological amendments.

Biological amendments include a broad range of products that aim to enhance productivity through stimulating biological processes in the soil and in the plant.

In measuring the results they collected metre by metre comparative samples from the crop as per the Agriculture Departments Standard Protocol. 

The A and B sample gave an increase in grain compared to C the control, when it was averaged out over a number of sampled cross-sections. 

Dr Russell predicted with his research, the introduction of air in cropping will boost the health of the soil and increase the microbial activity. 

“Aerating and loosening the soil, not deep ripping, is freeing up the natural biota of the soil to actually work how it should,” Dr Russell said. 

He said with traditional farming methods, they’re seeing soil health steadily decline. 

“We’ve been pushing the soils quite hard with our high production and getting quite good results but running down the bank of soil organic carbon. We’re reducing the biological engine and it’s operating only a few cylinders rather than all of it’s cylinders.” 

He said aerating the soil and adding a biological amendment will do the opposite. 

“Our aim - is to move into a system whereby instead of slowly extracting the soil organic matter and lessening the microbial action, doing exactly the opposite,” he said. 

“We’re breaking up the compaction in the soil enabling the native soil biota, augmented by additional biota to actually do their job and then in so doing with the presence of their roots increasing the soil organic matter.

“We aerate it, then we come over the top and apply the natural biology at the right times so they can keep going. Then the process starts and the plants can get deep rooted,” he explained. 

Dr Russell said through their research they are discovering that introducing more oxygen promotes more lively soil. 

He said incorporating this method of farming will reduce the need for additional fertilisers.  

Dr Russell has many years of experience in the water and wastewater industry.

His research areas are in “Healthy Soils”, “Global Cooling and Global Warming” and “Sustainability in civil engineering.”

Last week Dr Russell submitted an overview of his research to the ‘Future Drought Fund’, a federal government funding initiative aimed at creating open discussion to tackle drought related issues. 

He also met with Wimmera Development Association to discuss the potential of expanding the trials. 

Mr Muller said they are looking for any interested grain farmers to continue the trials. Contact Calvin Muller on 0438951101