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

Della Vedova family

M08 8028 Esperance sorghum
Converting sand to soil

When Joe and Charlotte Della Vedova left the central wheatbelt in 1995 in search of better rainfall and less frosts, they were soon to discover that their new Esperance property would provide them with altogether different challenges. By 1998, Joe began in earnest his quest for creating more fertile soils on his sandplain property between Esperance and Condingup by experimenting with claying some of his deepest sands. Since then he has found a system of claying, spading and delving that is achieving results across variable paddocks.

It was soon after they moved to the coast, the Della Vedovas realised issues such as wind erosion and non-wetting soils put limitations on crop yields despite an average annual rainfall of around 550mm. Joe initially tried claying his deep non-wetting sands with limited success until in 2007 he realised that by incorporating clay using a spader to a depth of 50 cm, he achieved much better results.

It became a process of soil rebuilding, involving delving or carting and spading of the clay being done across whole paddocks depending on the soil profile. Where clay is close to the surface and waterlogging is more prevalent, then delving works well, whereas where the sands are deep, then the clay is spread.
If there was a gravel layer within the profile, then delving could not be done and the clay also needed to be carted to those areas and integrated from the surface downwards.

Paddocks have been extensively soil tested and electromagnetic and radiometrics have been used to map where the clay and gravels were to help decide which form of earthworks to undertake. The benefits have included better topsoil pH (from 4 to around 7), a deeper root profile, higher organic carbon levels, a better use of fertiliser, better weed management, and more control over seeding times. Joe said the soils that have been ameliorated are now more robust and workable with much better water holding capacity.  He has been able to lower seeding rates (5kg down to 2kg for hybrid canola) and gets much better fertiliser responses.

“The soil is now healthy, smells better and you can see worm activity there,” Joe said.
Summer crops such as sorghum, combined with stubble retention are being used to increase carbon content and lower the water profile on wetter years in paddocks prone to waterlogging.

Lessons learnt
·         Don’t spread when you can delve
·         Keep track of depth to clay
·         Put the right rate of clay on to suit the soil type
·         Remember to check the clay variability
·         Use the right clay if possible
·         Incorporation is king and timing makes a big difference
·         Keep traffic compaction to a minimum

The process
·         Work on the sandhills first
·         Do EM and Gamma Radiometrics
·         Pre-drill sites for pits (check quality)
·         Locate pits for maximum efficiently (closeness to paddocks and correct clay content)
·         Source dedicated machinery
·         Carry grader first and then delve to fill the gaps
·         Sow cover crop

Where to from here:
·         See how the clay performs in wet years
·         Soil probes reveals that reversal in profile fill in clay v non clay soils – summer crops are then the key
·         Looking for frost risk reduction
·         Focus on carbon building
·         Keep expanding the area completed
·         Create tramlines
·         Incorporate a sowing system onto the spader

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