Improving the value & sustainability of Esperance port zone grain growers.

The Schutz family - North Dalyup

Trevor and Marie Schutz have been feeling their way with claying and ploughing techniques to combat increasing non-wetting issues on their sandy country. So far yields have doubled on the areas they have worked on.

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Feeling their way with clay

Banksia Park

North Dalyup
Area: 4900 ha (over five locations)
Soil types: everything from heavy clays through to deep sands
Livestock: currently around 25% of operation is livestock consisting of 3500 grown sheep and lambs and 40 breeding cattle. They have mostly a wheat/barley/pasture rotation with a small amount of canola grown.
History: Trevor and Marie moved from the eastern states to farm in Esperance around 22 years ago. The home block was originally a lot more pasture-based but as soon as the Schutz took it on, they swung over to between 50 and 70 per cent cropping.

After a number of years farming the North Dalyup deep sandy country which is located around 30km from the coast, Trevor and Marie realised that the sandy loams were becoming increasingly prone to non-wetting issues. They hardly crop lupins now and around 10 years ago the Schutzs started dabbling in soil amelioration techniques to try and combat their increasing non-wetting issues. A contractor was employed to combat 30 ha of the worst producing areas of the farm by spreading clay. Pits were opened on the farm and the clay was spread at around 250-300 tonne per hectare. The Schutz then incorporated it themselves by repeatedly smudging and ploughing it.

Trevor said the claying stabilised the problem areas and germination was better; the crop grew better but he found that yields were no different.
“Yields were a bit better on a soft finish so I expect that drought issues were probably the cause of the disappointing yields. We also didn’t know back then about clay quality, so it could have been that the clay we were using wasn’t the best,” Trevor said.

In 2013 the Schutz family purchased a mouldboard plough and ripped those clayed areas to try and increase productivity. The plough works on the principal of turning the top 30-35cm of sand over to bury the non-wetting top 10cm layer of soil and bring better and wetter soil up from underneath.
“We were finding that the top 10cm layer quite often was dry, but if we dug down below that, the soil was moist. This was causing us all kinds of germination issues,” Trevor said.

The Schutzs have now ploughed 300 ha of their property plus done some contract work for another farmer in the area.
“We just pick a couple of paddocks we want to work on each year, we don’t want to be too radical,” Trevor said.

After the initial 150 ha was ploughed in 2013, Trevor found that the soil was difficult to drive over which made seeding tricky and it was hard to get the seed at the right depth. Until there is crop establishment, the risk of wind erosion is very high for several weeks post ploughing and it’s vital to get the paddock sown within hours of ploughing into moisture as the new fluffy top soil dries out quickly.

Trevor found that lightly rolling the seed into the ground was the best way of handling the lumpy; ridged; fluffy soil at seeding as conventional air seeding methods didn’t work with the fragile soil. He still uses a 12 metre air seeder on tramline but it is connected to the roller which is hitched to the tractor using three point linkage. There have been slight issues with patchy establishment on the wheel tracks and seeder box not quite matching up, but this has been much less of an issue this year.

The roughness of the paddock is still an issue, but by having all machinery working on the same lines, they have been able to deal with it as long as the headlands line up. This year the Schutz’s ploughed and seeded around 85 ha and the season was very favourable for them with the early start meaning they could sow their canola program and they then started their ploughing program on April 25. This meant that they avoided having bare paddocks in the windy month of July. They have found that wheat is the best crop to sow after as it is more robust. Last year they used Mace as they were sowing into a paddock with no brome grass issues. Usually they use Clearfield varieties due to on-going brome grass infestations.

Not only has their weed management been much better as a result of the ploughing (they don’t spray a paddock the year it is ploughed); Trevor estimated that yields on average have doubled and those increases have continued in consecutive years.
“It will be interesting to see just how long the effects remain for, but so far it is looking promising,” he said.

Lessons learnt

·         Avoid windy months and some years are also worse than others – so if it is shaping up to be windy, then just don’t take the risk of ploughing.

·         Just do a bit each year – manage your risk of erosion.

·         Tramlining is important because of the soft soil.

·         Soil test first

·         Lime at a blanket rate of 2 tonne in front of the plough.

·         Make sure that the soil you are bringing up is worth the effort (so some of the really deep sand country is better to be clayed first.

·         You still want to keep some clogs and ridges in the soil to stop erosion. You don’t want smooth paddocks after.

·         Only work with wet soils.
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