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

Sanderson family - Grass Patch

Operation at a glance

Farm size: 3,382 arable hectares owned and share farm a further 1,600 hectares
Annual Rainfall: 370mm
Soil type: On the home farm (2,218ha arable) deep pale sand over clay, loamy sand to pale sand over clay and some shallower duplex type soils.
Cropping: Wheat, barley, field peas and canola
Livestock: Agistment of 1,000 to 1500 head of sheep over summer and early autumn

Danny Sanderson farms with his wife Judy, son John and John’s wife Desiree in Grass Patch and share farms a further 1,600ha in Cascade. The Grass Patch Home farm has a predominately sand over clay soil type where both the depth to clay and sand composition vary greatly. Depth to clay can be less than 100mm in some areas and greater than a metre in others. While the sand composition changes from loamy productive sand to a paler one. 

As the farm moved away from a mixed enterprise and into a continuous cropping system, some sandy loam over clay areas experienced increasing non-wetting issues while the deep sands became more non-wetting and at higher risk of erosion. In 2001, Danny began claying some of those areas to combat the non-wetting and erosion risk issues and repair areas that had been degraded by sheep in the past.

Clay pits were dug in areas where the clay was less than 300mm to the surface and clay was spread by a contractor using carry graders at an average rate of 250 tonnes/ha. The clay was then incorporated twice using a two-way plough at 45 degrees to spreading and then smudged using a smudge-bar engineered out of railway line. The cost of the operation in 2001 was roughly $600/ha. Today the process costs around $750/ha - for opening and closing clay pits, getting contractors in to spread clay with carry graders and incorporating the clay with a two-way plough and smudge bar.
Although, the clay quality isn’t ideal with high boron levels, the claying has improved the germination and consequently the yields on the sand over clay non-wetting areas and stabilised the deep sands on the sandy ridges and hollows. While care needs to be taken when boron levels are high in the clay subsoil, the fact that the subsoil is applied at a moderate rate, and that it’s diluted through the topsoil and that boron will leach over time, means that clays with moderately high levels can often still be used. As a precaution sowing relatively boron tolerant crops for the first one or two seasons after claying can reduce any risk of yield loss.

Anywhere the depth to clay was less than 400mm the Sanderson’s have seen a better response and these soils have become more productive with yields similar to the farm average. Last year some of these areas produced over 4t/ha. In 2001, the farm average wheat yield was 1.6t/ha, and the poor sands were going between 0.2-0.4t/ha. Now the poor sands produce on average 1t/ha and the farms’ five-year wheat average is 2.2t/ha.
In 2006, they deep ripped some of the clayed country and increased the yield by a couple of 100 kg’s from 0.8t/ha to 1t/ha, which showed that compaction is also an underlying issue.

Claying will be an ongoing operation for the Sanderson’s as the areas of non-wetting continue to slowly increase. In the future, their plan is to delve where possible and then spread clay on the deeper sands. They are also planning to delve or clay in the low, hollow areas prone to frost as they have noticed the soils with higher clay content in those areas seem to handle frost events better.unspecified
Dan Sanderson and "Wilfred" on the clayed ridge at his Grass Patch property.

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