Early adopter shows CTF benefits for Mallee

Better soil moisture retention with CTF proves a boon in LRZs


Precision Agriculture & Machinery
Victorian grower Gene Fuller implemented a controlled traffic system on his Yaapeet property in the quest to make the most of available moisture in a low rainfall zone. PHOTO Jim Aldersey

Victorian grower Gene Fuller implemented a controlled traffic system on his Yaapeet property in the quest to make the most of available moisture in a low rainfall zone. PHOTO Jim Aldersey

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Grower in Victoria's Mallee shares experiences of adopting CTF in a low rainfall zone.

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Where Gene Fuller runs his continuous cropping enterprise in Victoria's Mallee he is something of a pioneer, owing to the way he manages his paddocks.

In 2010, he started limiting the traffic of farm machinery over his 3000 hectares to permanent wheel tracks.

Now, in 2019, he remains the only grower using controlled-traffic farming (CTF) in the low-rainfall Yaapeet district, 134 kilometres north of Horsham.

That CTF adoption hasn't been more widespread may not be surprising, given that research demonstrating benefits of CTF in dry environments has only recently started to emerge.

I can see that rainfall no longer pools or runs off my paddocks, but is retained in the soil. - Victorian grower Gene Fuller

That means past CTF uptake occurred primarily in medium and high-rainfall zones. In low-rainfall zones (LRZs), adoption at the last count in 2014 was just 4 per cent.

The incentive for Gene to adopt CTF was to finish off what no-till had started: increase his soil's capacity to absorb and retain water.

"That's the impact I can see most clearly from having adopted CTF," he says.

"I can see that rainfall no longer pools or runs off my paddocks, but is retained in the soil.

"That's becoming increasingly important as rainfall has become more erratic."

Mr Fuller cites the example of several recent seasons when spring growth of his crops had to rely on soil moisture left over from winter rain, or from unpredictable thunderstorms.

Matching machinery

Mr Fuller took a gradual approach to matching the axle widths of his machinery and he is not too fussed with occasional deviations from his permanent tracks, as he doesn't see evidence of adverse effects.

Gene's personal observations are backed up by research on CTF's impacts in low-rainfall environments.

Research has found that CTF has the potential to lift yields by up to 5 per cent.

The LRZ, however, does have its idiosyncrasies.

As observed by Gene, dry environments tolerate low-intensity uncontrolled traffic (such as one machinery pass) in both wet and dry conditions without inflicting the yield penalties suffered in high-rainfall zones.

But higher-density uncontrolled traffic does reduce yields, be it on heavy, light or sandy soils, all of which are present on Gene's farm.

The research on CTF in the LRZ was undertaken with GRDC investment and was led by Dr Nigel Wilhelm, of the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI).

GRDC Research Code: ACT00004

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