Topsoil strategy helps farm recover from fire

Jo FulwoodCountryman

After almost 70 per cent of his property was affected by a devastating fire in 2010, David Paish's fortunes are beginning to change.

The Badgingarra farmer said this year could end up being one of the best he had experienced in a very long time.

While it could take up to 10 years for his farm to return to full productivity levels, Mr Paish said average rains this year would help him achieve decent yields, with the crops looking good so far.

The catastrophic fire three years ago destroyed, in places, more than an inch of fertile topsoil.

"In 2010 we lost a lot of topsoil, and that impacts on all of the nutrients we've been putting on for many years," he said.

"A lot of the fertility is in the top four inches, so if you lose an inch you really lose a lot."

Average annual rainfall in the Badgingarra region is 500mm, but non-wetting soils are a challenge for Mr Paish's business.

"I've got a lot of water-repellent white gum mallee country," he said.

"It's clay over gravel, sand over clay and sandy gravel.

"I've done a lot of claying and I use the wetter behind the press wheel when I seed."

Mr Paish said he had spaded 30ha this year. In 2012, Mr Paish's Mace wheat crop averaged 4.7t/ha.

"In better years, I've done 5t/ha for wheat. Last year was the first time I grew Mace and it went better than what it looked," he said.

This year he switched his entire wheat crop from Carnamah to Mace in a bid to avoid sprouting at harvest.

Mr Paish crops 800ha, including both wheat and canola, but it his pasture crops grown for seed that help his business to stand out from the crowd.

On 230ha, several different clover and pasture crops are grown and then harvested for seed, which is then cleaned and bagged on farm for sale direct to farmers or seed merchants.

Varieties include Casbah biserrula, Gland clover, Hykon clover and two hard-seeded French serradellas, Eliza and Margurita.

"All the seed is certified. I'm really the only one left doing it now," Mr Paish said.

He said pasture seed was often hard to thrash, and so he had modified a standard Case header, closing up the rotor to thrash the plant more effectively. "I used to use clover harvesters, but they suck up too much dirt and that doesn't do much for your paddocks," he said.

"Pastures are an important part of the rotation - they put a lot of nitrogen back into the soils.

"To get decent yields from a pasture crop, you need at least average rainfall.

"In a wetter year, the yields will be ahead, but in a dryer year I'm better off with broadacre crops."

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