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Deep tillage investment helps faba bean expansion

Stephen Cooper and his family bought a deep tillage machine with another family to incorporate lime to the depth of the acid subsurface layers on his farm near Caragabal, New South Wales.
Photo: Nicole Baxter

Stephen Cooper and his family bought a half share in a deep tillage machine to drive lime into an acid subsurface soil layer and improve their faba bean production.

Stephen – who farms with his father Trevor and partner Melanie – purchased the machine with a Temora family to ameliorate soils on his 4500-hectare farm near Caragabal, New South Wales. The move came after soil tests showed that three tonnes of lime per hectare, incorporated with a Grizzly offset disc plough in 2023, had not fixed the acid subsurface layer in their red soil.

“We have an acid throttle 150 to 250 millimetres below the surface where the pHCa was 4.0,” he says. “The surface has a pHCa of 5.7.”

Stephen says crop production where 3t/ha of lime was applied was satisfactory on the hill, but the soil remained acidic in the valley.

He plans to apply 2t/ha of lime in the valley after a canola crop is harvested and drive it into the subsurface with deep tillage.

“We bought a half share in a Horsch Tiger MT to move lime into the acid layer,” he says.

Before expanding faba bean production to 20 per cent of their cropped area, Stephen grew lupins. “We’ve been expanding our faba bean production over the past five years,” he says. “They’ll be grown once every four years.”

This year, Stephen used the acid-tolerant rhizobia (new Group F) developed with GRDC investment.

He has a belt-type elevator onto which he inoculates seed as it is moved into his air cart.

His disc seeder is set on 170mm rows and fitted with a Continu-Rate® meter roller (blue) for faba beans.

This year, the faba beans were sown at 120 kilograms/ha with 50kg/ha of monoammonium phosphate. He aims to sow the faba beans about 50mm deep.

The seeder has blockage monitors on each row unit linked to an in-cabin screen.

Stephen says the biggest pain point in growing faba beans is when fungicides need to be applied in September.

“We’ll have a good year ... and then the next year, I’ll think, why am I growing these?”

Two advantages that remain in their favour are the carryover of nitrogen into the following canola and wheat crops and the opportunity to control ryegrass with butroxydim (Factor®) if needed.

Critical to success, he says, is finding an agronomist who can provide support for growing faba beans.

If the faba beans are high-yielding enough to leave 250 to 300mm of stubble on the paddock, Stephen windrows them at about 10 kilometres per hour. If they are not, he direct-heads them.

In 2023, Stephen’s faba beans yielded just less than 2t/ha. The dry September made the season forgiving for weeds and disease.

In 2021, he produced FAB1 grain and sold his crop to export market buyers in South Australia.

Although it was a once-off deal, he has continued to grow faba beans, storing them in silo bags until he finds a market.

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