Crop and Soil Management in the Mid North, South Australia

South Australian farmer, Steve Ball speak to us about his crop and soil management strategies on his farm in the Mid North of South Australia.

Steve and his father-in-law Don crop 1500 acres near Riverton, South Australia. They are monitoring soil moisture levels to enhance crop management strategies.

Stack Rotation with Break Crops

We now crop 1500 acres a year. High rainfall cropping with a, what we call a stack rotation with two years of cereals and then two years of break crops. Those break crops can be canola, beans, peas, vetch. Anything along those lines. Growing season rainfall is 400 mls per year. The full year is 521(mm) so we have out of season rain fall.About 5 inches in old terms.

Soil types here we run through from the red brown earths, typical red cropping country, through to self mulching chocolate ground, and that’s very nice soil to grow crops on. Last year we did plant some sunflowers and maize and they worked out quite well. We went away from the opportunity crop of those where if you have a normal good year, but then a bit of a wet after harvest.You sow them.

Understanding Soil Moisture Levels

We actually prepared the paddock as the only crop for the year and sowed just that cropping to a heavy stubble in September. We were really surprised with the good results that we achieved, particulary with the sunflowers.

They worked very well. I think that they’ll be something we’ll be following more and more over the next few years, particularly where we get to understand a bit more about soil moisture with our soil moisture probes, we can store about 180 mls of moisture during the season to be available for those warm season crops like maize and others such mung beans.

We’re gonna give them a try this year. The sunflowers, and so we only need a small amount of rainfall during the actual growing season for those to finish them off. And we tend to get a bit of good summer rainfall. Prior to the season we can actually see what moisture is left over from last season and that gives us a bit more heart about putting in particularly canola and beans which are deep rooted and they can access that moisture and it does work alot better in our system when you’ve got that moisture carried over and we are looking at basing decisions on nitrogen inputs during the year.

Based on how much soil moisture we’ve got and if we’ve got a full profile late in the season we’ll put on a bit extra nitrogen for both protein and yield. So it’s working well there. We’ve got a group of us in the area that have got 5 soil moisture probes on farm and we can access that data, any of us, and see what is happening throughout the district.

It’s a good program put together by Rural Directions in Clare.