Mastering non-wetting soils with clay

Jo FulwoodCountryman

Well-known claying advocate Trevor Syme has won the 2013 Australian Grain Grower of the Year Award.

In Melbourne last week as part of the Kondinin Group and ABC Rural's Australian Farmer of the Year Awards, Mr Syme was presented with the Grains Research and Development-sponsored award for his extensive trial work on non-wetting soils.

Mr Syme and his wife, Renae, farm 3800 hectares in the Bolgart district.

His trials on clay application rates and incorporation methods are now being used by universities, GRDC and the Department of Agriculture and Food WA.

"It's certainly an honour to be nominated, and then to win the award," he said.

"When 80 per cent of your farm is affected by non-wetting soils, you either get on top of it or get out of it. You have to be passionate about it."

Mr Syme said after claying at a rate of 260t/ha, his wheat yield went from 2t/ha a hectare to 3.6t/ha in the 2011 trials.

"Clay spreading has paid for itself in two years, and there is already a big difference in the way the crop looks this year," he said.

"Last year, one paddock of canola had an increase in yields from between 0.5 to 1.1t/ha."

Mr Syme said the trials, which have been running for four years, consisted of three claying application rates and four different incorporation methods.

He said clay was applied at 260t/ha, 520t/ha and a control trial had no clay applied at all.

"Around 250 to 260t/ha is the normal application rate - that is what has been proven in the past to be the right amount," he said.

"Then we thought we would double it to see if it was twice as good … but results show it's not."

Incorporation methods have included a two-way plough at both one and two passes, plus a rotary hoe.

Mr Syme said a trial also used no incorporation at all.

"In regard to the rotary hoe, this came about because a three metre rotary hoe was worth $12,000," he said.

"A four metre spader was worth about $100,000, you can buy a lot of rotary hoe for one spader.

"Obviously you aren't comparing apples with apples but the rotary hoe did work."

Mr Syme said he was using a clay delver and had also trialled mouldboard ploughing and disc seeding, all with positive results.

"I am looking at any ideas that will reduce the impact of non-wetting soils on my farm business," he said.

GRDC western regional panel chairman Peter Roberts said, despite difficult seasonal conditions and production constraints in recent years, growers such as Mr Syme remained positive and were adopting new technology to confront these issues.

"Non-wetting soils, for example, are a vexed problem, with no single silver bullet solution for growers given variable soils and conditions across the State," he said.

"Following close consultation with WA grain growers, through the GRDC's western regional panel and WA Regional Cropping Solutions Networks, the GRDC will significantly increase its investment in non-wetting soils research, development and extension as well as frost RD&E in the coming year."

Mr Syme is a WA No-Till Farming Association board member and a member of GRDC's regional cropping solutions networks.

Also recognised from WA was grower Ron Creagh, of Nungarin, who was named the Plant Biosecurity Farmer of the Year.

Sponsored by Plant Health Australia and Animal Health Australia, the Biosecurity Farmer of the Year award recognises the efforts of producers dedicated to keeping their operations free of diseases, pests and weeds.

_Farmer of the Year Awards _

Australian Farmer of the Year *Timothy James Reid, Sandy Bay, TAS

Horticultural Grower of the Year *Ashley Ratcliff, Barmera, SA

Livestock Producer of the Year * Matthew Carter, Myall Springs, NSW

Dairy Farmer of the Year * The Frampton family, Gawler, TAS

Wool Producer of the Year * John and Jo Symons, Parndana, SA

Grain Grower of the Year * Trevor Syme, Bolgart, WA

Diversification Farmer of the Year * Paul Trevethan, Howlong, NSW

Young Farmer of the Year * Nigel Corish, Goondiwindi, QLD

Biosecurity Farmer of the Year (plant category) * Ron Creagh, Nungarin, WA

Biosecurity Farmer of the Year (animal category) * Peter and Francis Bender, Dover, TAS

Farm Safety Leader of the Year * Michael Blake, Hamilton, VIC

Rural Leader of the Year * Timothy James Reid, Sandy Bay, TAS

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