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

Nils Blumann - Gibson

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Renovating soils for the next generation

Nils and Penny Blumann, Olimarena, Gibson

Operation at a glance

Area: 4000ha
Annual rainfall: 570mm, 20km from the coast
Soil types: variable sands – ranging from deep sand, to sand over gravel, and sand over gravel over clay

1956 Acquired Olimarena, 800ha virgin block at Gibson
1960s A decade of mainly livestock production with excellent annual pasture production.
1970s Cropping at Scaddan. A decade of poor wool, lamb, mutton, cereal and beef prices.
1980s Improved farm production and profitability until the collapse of wool prices. Minimum tillage became widely accepted.
1995 Began claying.
1990s A decade of greater seasonal variability, with improved yields due to addressing soil constraints and claying.
2000 onwards Recognition that south coast soils are unique and dissimilar from WA’s northern sandplain region. Due to improved technology, cropping yields rose dramatically and sheep numbers dropped to less than a third of what they were in the 90s
2014/15 Purchased 2 neighbouring properties in order to make viable the employment of three full time staff. This enables Nils to be on the farm for around 30 percent of the year. The remainder of the time he spends in Perth.

Renowned for his indomitable energy and resilient drive and determination, Nils Blumann says he isn’t one for budgeting and he can’t put a decisive costing on his two decades of amelioration work. But he knows that yields have more than doubled on land that he has renovated.

Two decades ago the fragile, gutless soils were yielding way below rainfall yield potential – this year they are looking to yield up to 5 tonne or more cereal crops, if the season finishes well. Profit isn’t the only objective now for Nils, it’s more about the sustainability of the farm he is preparing for the next generation - and keeping himself busy and motivated.

At an age when most people are slowing down, the 82 year-old with his wife Penny have three daughters, successful in their own right, who live in Perth and New Zealand and are not looking to return to the family farm which Nils and Penny have owned for almost 60 years. Much to Penny’s consternation, last year, Nils purchased more land to increase the size of their holding by a further 1500ha.
He says that productive farming is all about land, labour, capital and knowledge. In order for him to work less as he ages, he needed to employ another person and so in turn he needed to purchase more land.

“This means that the holding is also much easier to sell as a whole parcel if that is what my family wishes to do one day when I’m gone,” he says with a twinkling wry smile. Following on from a major claying program on his original 2500 ha properties, Nils is now in the throes of ameliorating his newly purchased non-wetting sandplain blocks through various techniques involving ploughing, spading and clay spreading.

It all began in 1995 when Nils started claying his most fragile, infertile soils to overcome some of the worst physical constraints caused by poor soil water relationships and chase the higher cropping returns. The claying was a response to increasing issues of patchy seed germination and ineffective plant nutrient uptake. Nils realised that short-term remedies such as wetting agents would overcome the symptoms but not the cause of the problem.

With the newly purchased land, Nils was this year interested to test some of the deeper gutless sands during the growing season.
On a paddock with many non-wetting issues, Nils sprayed out the weeds (Lovegrass, capeweed and radish) using 2L of Glyphosate per hectare. This was left for 48 hours and then off set disc ploughed to 60 mm to break up the lovegrass. The following day it was spaded and then seeded the day after that. He has been pleasantly surprised by how good the weed-kill has been and a wheat crop on the paddock is looking “very promising, considering what we started with”.

In another section of the new property, Nils conducted some different treatments at seeding. He expects that that area he just direct-drilled wheat into would go around 1.5 to 2T to the hectare. Next to this he has also used an offset disc to 70mm and then beside that area he additionally spaded after using the off-set disc. He expects that the crop on this section will yield around 4 tonne to the hectare.
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