Progression to No Till Farming Practices

CSIRO’s Rick Llewellyn discusses the adoption of no-till farming practices across South Australia.

No-till farming practices are increasing right across Australia. Rick Llewellyn, of the CSIRO, discusses the adoption of no till farming in south Australia he talks to us about the benefits and constraints associated with developing a no till system. Throughout Australia, we’re at very high levels of no till adoption and south Australia is up there.

A Surge in the Adoption of No Till Farming

It’s had probably one of the more recent surges in no till adoption in the last 10 years whereas some areas of some states such as in WA that almost a plateau in several years before, but now we’re at that plateau in several regions. But there’s a few important factors to consider in South Australia and that it’s not just how many farmers are using some no till but the extent of use.

Well, the rapid increase is due to farmers wanting to crop more land more quickly and save fuel, as well as conserve soil and the right machinery being available and the right herbicides being available to let them do that. Some of the main drivers is is how much information and learning is required to make the system work.

Factors to Consider Before Going No Till

There are a lot of different factors – weeds, disease,  different crops, different machinery types, a whole range of factors that are important. And it’s only when all those come together that people are ready to take the step and one found is that the availability of information and the consultants to help farmers take that step have been very important in not just taking the step but also in sustaining and developing a no-till system.

The benefits, in terms of the environment, are obvious and that’s been a major sort of platform for farmers wanting to shift to this system. In terms of other drivers and all other benefits. It really is the opportunity to crop more intensively and respond to the potential profitability of more intensive cropping compared to older, more traditional farming systems an no tillslet people crop more intensively, crop more often, whilst also building up soil.

Studies have shown a number of interesting things as well as the general increase. And now you’ve got several regions reaching a plateau in terms of the numbers of farmers using no till, and generally in Australia that’s very high. Often it reaches a plateau up around 90%, where we here in the Mallee it looks like it’s starting to plateau out around 70 to 80 percent, but you still see a lot of flexibility and that’s a real important trait for the way the Australian farmers have used no-till.

Farmers Using a Mix of Cultivation and No Till

They’re not sticking strictly to just using no till. I’ve seen a lot of farmers use cultivation where necessary so in certain seasons you do see it go up and down. And an example is when glyphosate herbicide prices peaked or really spiked several years ago. What you saw then is a shift back cultivation for farmers in some regions.

Not all regions, but in regions like this one here where farmers are still very flexible in their use of no till they’re able to move backwards and forward as the need demands.There is a number of opportunities I think to allow farmers to use more no till than what they are currently doing. Of course the aim there is for farmers who want to be using no till and to help them reach that aim.

I’m not saying that no till is essential for everyone on all land by any stretch, but there are a lot of farmers out there who want to be using more than what they are doing. And the constraints are still common factors disease so I’m concerned about management of disease under constant  till systems and the feedback from farmers is weed issues too, still being a constraint.

The main risk, I guess, in terms of these no till systems, is just relaxing and thinking the job’s done and we’ve reached this very high level of adoption but it’s a system that needs a lot of constant work to sustain in terms of the things I mentioned, such as disease and weed management and a range of other factors.

The important thing is to recognize there’s still a lot of work to be done to sustain this system, in a way that gives farmers a bit benefits that they want from it, over the long-term