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Basics of farming a formula for success

Every change a grower makes over time is a building block from key lessons that have provided the basis for the next improvement.
Photo: Evan Collis

Have you ever considered just how much of farm management is still fundamental, despite the wave of technology and ag-tech available to us?

You can have the best planting gear with the latest precision ag capability worth hundreds of thousands of dollars but it is worth little if you have not done a $100 seed test – a simple check that has been known for generations and should be a matter of course for every grower.

It can literally cost millions of dollars if it doesn’t meet specifications and not getting a basic requirement like this right occurs more often than many might realise.

I have heard some stories already this year where growers have had to go back and replant because the basics did not stack up. This loss of time, money and effort can be devastating, particularly on the back of tough years.

As growers will attest, farming businesses are complex. We have the opportunities and challenges of any other business overlaid with the vagaries of climate, volatile pricing and ever-changing regulation.

The oft-spoken approach of “worry and make decisions about the things you can control but mitigate for those you cannot” is something growers do every day – sometimes every hour.

Constant evolution

It brings into focus that we should always view our businesses on a continuum; a constant evolution where we strive to improve not only the business but also the people who manage it, our families and communities, and the natural resources for which we are custodians.

Every change we make over time is foundational – each a building block from key lessons which have provided the basis for the next improvement.

Some of these become embedded in our system. Take for example crop varieties. When new traits are discovered, they become part of new varieties. This takes years of painstaking research to develop, yet each season we don’t think twice about selecting the right variety, packaged with the traits we want and need. Whether it is rust genes in wheat, or blackleg tolerance in canola, they have become standard in varieties.

In the past, pre-harvest sprouting in barley and wheat was an issue in most seasons, now it is rare, as is cereal cyst nematode. Thanks to GRDC investments over past decades, and highly talented research partners such as CSIRO, acid soils tolerance has also delivered outstanding results.

Foundational lessons become assumed

Improvements identified in farming systems, husbandry and agronomy all build on a similar model of foundational lessons which eventually become assumed. These are broadly regarded as best-practice and are more about behaviours rather than offered in a package such as varieties.

There is a buzz around sectors of innovation, particularly ag-tech, carbon and ag-data. These are complex and diverse areas of interest which have the potential to not only inform improved tools and decision-making but also provide profit drivers and system resilience. The opportunities in this tech space are almost endless.

Yet, as much as we are excited about new technology around the corner, we all still must ensure we get all the simple things right – the foundations on-farm – the soil tests, seed tests, good biosecurity practices, machinery maintenance and knowing every square inch of your land. Timeliness is also critical, along with good old-fashioned experience.

Research, development and, critically, extension play a massive part in helping growers drive technological innovation while also maintaining the fundamentals. It is about balance, and it is about avoiding complacency.

Our advisers, farming systems groups and peers are excellent at reminding us of the power of quality and timely decisions. Always take a moment to stop and check you have the basics covered. To get them wrong can mean much more than a small percentage impact on your system and profitability.

The foundations of farming and better practices which have been pressure-tested over many years will always be the best formula for success.

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