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 “If you have a crop in a drought that looks like it's failing, there's a temptation to bail it and sell it off as hay, or to harvest it and, because of reduced yield and reduced income, potentially go out and bail the straw. But what we've seen is a lot of regret about cutting crops for hay. Generally speaking, we've found that trying to push the crop through to a grain crop is a better result and leaves as much residue in the paddock as possible.”

— Greg Butler, Research & Development Manager, South Australian No-Till Farmers Association

The 2023 U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook from NOAA predicts persistent drought in the Midwest continuing through September. No-tillers looking for advice for dealing with dry conditions may turn to the strategies of their Australian counterparts. 

South Australia has a Mediterranean climate with hot and dry summers, yet forward-thinking farmers have been making no-till work down under since the 1960s and turned to no-till without the benefit of the subsidies.

In today’s episode of No-Till Farmer podcast, brought to you by The Andersons, Greg Butler, the long-time research and development manager for the South Australian No-Till Farmers Association, and David McGavin, farmer and founder of the Precision Seeding Solutions dealership, talk about how the more than 85% of farmers in the region manage to successfully no-till in dryland conditions.

Watch Butler and McGavin’s presentation from the 2023 National No-Tillage Conference.

 Related Content

Early Adoption of No-Till in Australia Helps Farmers Grow in Dry Conditions

Water Conservation Lessons From Australia

No-Till Good for Present & Future of Farming in Australia

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No-Till Farmer podcast series is brought to you by The Andersons.

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A thoughtful, well-designed nutrient management program is essential to maximize crop productivity. Providing the right nutrients at the right time throughout the growing season is key to achieving high yields. The Andersons High Yield Programs make it easy to plan season-long nutrient programs for corn, soybeans, wheat and many specialty crops. Visit to get instant recommendations to improve your nutrient efficiency and yields.


Full Transcript

Michaela Paukner:

Welcome to the No-Till Farmer Podcast, brought to you by The Andersons. I'm Michaela Paukner, managing editor at No-Till Farmer. In today's episode of the podcast, Greg Butler, the longtime research and development manager for the South Australian No-Till Farmers Association and David McGavin, farmer and founder of the Precision Seeding Solutions dealership, talk about how the more than 85% of farmers in their region of Australia manage to successfully no-till on dry land conditions. US no-tillers dealing with drought are sure to pick up a few tips from this replay from the 2023 National No-Tillage Conference.

David McGavin:

So yeah, I'm Dave McGavin. A bit of my background. I'm off a family farm and moved into precision plant dealership and we service the entire Australia and New Zealand now. So we're spreading our wings fairly well. My father's still home on the family farm. I spent early days there till I was 18 and then away for 10 or 12 years and then back there for a number of years. So he's still there, farming still. So I've got a reasonable background on what drought is like and how it affects farmers. Greg Butler from South Australian No-Till Association. Greg's a bit of a mad scientist from South Australian No-Till Association. So south of Australia, right down the bottom and the middle. Generally all winter cropping down there unless... So growing lentils, faba beans, wheat, barley.

All their rains come in winter time generally and sometimes it just switches on depending on the area. They'll just get it, it comes around to May and June it just starts raining so it's fairly consistent. Whereas I'm up from middle and New South Wales where we need to be at a storm moisture there because we get heavy falls. Our annual rainfall might up that area is about twice where Greg's from down South Australia but can come in big doses and tend to run off a little bit.

So you need to be able to store that moisture up there. We've got heavy clay soil. Greg was somewhat the founder of the South Australian No-till because they were starting to see a lot of challenges. Every year it seemed to be the same thing, either a drought, a tight finish or a start where they didn't have enough moisture. So just a group of farmers employed Greg and Greg went on to just every year research what the farmers were after.

I really thought when talking about drought in America sometimes that can be a six-week thing where there's no rain. Whereas, here in Australia over the last few years we saw areas that only had one or two inches. Ridiculous small amount of rain. And for ourselves, we were in Inverell and when it's eventually started to rain I'd call home if I was away and I'd say, "Send me a picture of the rain." I just wanted to see it raining at my own place. So anyway, Greg can go through his presentation and at any time we could stop it and small enough classroom to ask questions.

Greg Butler:

Hello, my name's Greg Butler and today David McGavin and myself will be expressing some learnings from Australian drought. To help better understand water, I'd just like to do a brief demonstration first. So as a way of helping to explain how soil moisture actually works, I wanted to use this magnet to represent the cation exchange capacity of the soil and this paperclip to represent soil moisture.

And what happens is the water molecule will bind to the cation exchange capacity and this first molecule is very tightly bound. The same as the paperclip on the magnet, we can't easily shake it off. What happens is that subsequent water molecules start to bind through hydrogen bonding to form these daisy chains of water. And as we move further down the daisy chain, the water molecules become less tightly bound to the point where they barely stick at all and this piece of water here isn't going to stick.

And so this paperclip here represents what's either going to have to drain away down the profile or is going to become water logging. But in effect what this represents is our full profile of soil moisture in the soil. And what happens is the plants can transpire this moisture, but every paperclip here is not equally available or tightly bound. So these paperclips hanging on the end are extremely easy to get and plants are evolved in mild conditions such as where there's lots of moisture around. They're not very good at pulling off these moisture molecules. They're not very strong at it, they haven't had to be and so they can get a couple of molecules on the end there. But something like a summer weed which is involved in drier, harsher hotter conditions has to be better than that and that's able to pull off more water molecules off of this stream.

And in our farming system, if we don't control our summer weeds, what we end up is what we call a soil moisture deficit. And in that case there's still water molecules in the soil but our winter crops are simply not strong enough to pull these molecules off. So what happens, we have to wait until there's a rainfall event, until we can get more soil moisture molecules on there, then those winter crops can transpire and hence controlling summer weeds is so important in our farming system.

Now, the other biological agent that's really good at pulling moisture molecules off the cation exchange is mycorrhizae fungi. So we can rely on our winter cereals to get a couple and then we can rely on mycorrhizae fungi to get even more and increase the utilization rate of this string of water so that when it does rain again we're actually able to capture more water and then when the plant transpires, transpire more water.

So when people talk about increasing the size of their bucket, they're often talking about increasing the number of binding sites in their soil so that more water can be held simply by having more binding sites. What we've been more focused on in recent times is increasing the utilization rate of the strings that are actually there.

So sure we're trying to increase our bucket overall, but increasing the utilization rate of the water that's there under a situation where we've got more extended drought conditions and when rain does come, it comes hard and heavy and then goes away again, being able to capture that moisture and utilize that moisture where you see is very complimentary to increasing the size of the bucket.

So with that, I'll move on to the other part of the presentation. With that analogy of magnets and paperclips in mind, I just want to step through very briefly how the soil cation exchange is derived and why the water molecules act like a paperclip. Water in itself is what's called polar and a lot of people aren't aware of the role that oxygen plays in soils. Oxygen is obviously a constituent of water as well, being H2O, two hydrogens and one oxygen. But if we actually map the surface of water, we see that there's a negative polarity area around the oxygen and a positive polarity area around the hydrogen. And this is due to something called electro negativity. And oxygen has a very high electro negativity which is in effect basically a gravity for electrons.

When we think of that in the context of how water binds to itself, there's something called hydrogen bonding. And I won't go into too much detail on how that occurs, save to say that it's basically the interaction of a positive charge binding to a negative charge.

In soils there's a lot of oxygen and often we don't think about oxygen in soils in the form that it's in. We often think about oxygen for respiration in the same way as the oxygen that we breathe out the air O2, the molecule. However, oxygen in the soil is bound up as part of the mineral fraction of the soil. And in fact most soils are a majority of oxygen. And if we think about some simple soils like sand, silicon dioxide, so for every one silica there's two oxygens. Calcium carbonate which is limestone, one unit of calcium, one unit of carbon and three of oxygen.

So when people look at a piece of limestone, they generally don't think the majority of that is oxygen. But the reality is that it is and it's that electro negativity that oxygen exhibits when it's in the soil that is the basis for our cation exchange capacity. And the hydrogen on the water molecules bind to that.

And we can see here that we have some water molecules bound quite tightly to the cation exchange capacity. And as described before, that's like the first paperclip onto the magnet and that is very tightly bound. And so that's usually plant unavailable water. So it's water in the soil but the plant can't get it because it's too tightly bound. So we make these daisy chains of water to have plant available water and to the point where they get soaked out and saturated and then we have water draining away.

When we think about the mineral oxygen content of soils and how it drives cation exchange, that kind of makes sense. But I also now want to talk about organic carbon. It's actually not really the carbon that binds up to the water, it's the oxygen. And what we have here is a model structure of humic acid and on the right-hand side you can see it's quite a big molecule, but you look how many Os are there, there's Os all over the place and it's actually those oxygen atoms inside that big humid acid molecule that's actually increasing the water holder capacity.

So as you build up humate in the soil and build that organic matter, it's not really the carbon that's holding the water, it's actually the oxygen that's bound to the carbon that's holding the water.

So how do we monitor what might be happening in the soils?

So about 20 years ago we started a campaign looking at soil moisture probes. Basically these are a probe that goes in the ground. It has multiple sensors down through the profile. They send out an electronic signal and depending on how moist or dry the soil is, that electronic signal either goes through the soil easily or it has a higher level of resistance and we can turn the level of resistance into a curve that represents soil moisture and calibrate that.

So what we see over here on the right on the graph is what we call the day-night stepping. And that is during the day the soil moisture is dropping because the sun's out and it's transpiring, the plant's actually using water, but at night the sun goes to bed and transpiration slows down, so we have a flat period where soil moisture doesn't change and then during the day we have transpiration.

So we have a day-night stepping cycle and that enables us to see where the roots are active in the soil. As discussed those sensors, there's multiple sensors running down the soil profile and we can get a feel for what parts of the soil profile have water in them, what are dry, where the roots are, where the roots aren't.

This particular graph shows how hard it is even in a no-tilled stubble retain system, this is a seeding system with stubble retention. The shallow moisture up here at 10 centimeters, which is the black line, we get a rainfall in peak summer. It's just in and around Christmas-time. And so you can see here on the 1st of January we've still got a decent moisture condition, but by February we've lost almost all of that moisture. So quite difficult to hold onto shallow moisture in our farming systems when it's upwards of 40 degrees Celsius.

We can see on this particular graph that we have moisture coming in at depth. So the top layers tell us that the top part of the profile is full. This is in midwinter and this major rainfall around just before the 15th of June has actually pressed through the top of the profile and is now getting down to that brown colored curve, which is at 70 centimeters.

So we're picking up a lot of moisture down deep and then we can see it's slowly percolating through all the way down to a hundred centimeters so we can get a feel for what the soil and moisture profile is doing.

What this graph shows us is that we've got the root system transpiring down and down and then when we have a rainfall here near the end of September, the transpiration deep in the profile slows right down and the plant will preferentially transpire that water that's easier to get.

So by looking at the whole profile of water, we can add that together to make what we call a sum to graph, which is basically an average. And I just want to step through three years here. That was at the end of a pretty significant number of years of drought and 2007, 2008, 2009 of the respective years.

In 2007, which is this orange graph you can see in and around August where we're setting up our yield potential, our soil moisture is the lowest of the three years. There's no major great rainfalls. There's a couple of odd showers that go through and through to the grain filling period, our transpiration rate stays pretty steady. That is on each day we are losing a similar amount of water. We ended up with 2.9 tons of grain. These are all cereal crops at 3% screenings. That was a pretty good outcome given the amount of rainfall that fell in season in that year and everyone was pretty happy with the performance of their no-till systems.

So when 2008 rolled around, we'd actually had some decent opening rains and we had a much better soil and moisture profile coming into our yield potential period. But you can see here the steps are much larger and it's transpiring a lot more water. It actually happens that this is transpiring in one day what 2007 took nine days to transpire. So there's a lot more water coming out of the profile and a lot of this is near the surface.

What happens then though is we didn't have any really decent rain through spring and so we dried right out and then transpiration during grain fill, folds to nearly nothing. So in 2008 we grew a lot of grain at four tons, but we had 16% screenings. Now when our whole district is engulfed in a drought and people have forward sold their grain, you can have significant price spreads.

And in this year it was a year where grain marketing was being deregulated in Australia, people were relatively inexperienced with grain marketing and having district-wide shortages of quality grain to deliver saw good quality grain shoot up to about $600 a ton and all these screenings go down to about a hundred bucks a ton. So we had a massive price spread. So that's something to be really wary of when you have higher transpiration rates in the yield potential time and lower transpiration rates during the grain filling.

If we look at 2009, it's almost the opposite. 2009 was basically the breaking of the drought that we'd had and we came into a yield potential in quite wet condition and we had adequate spring rains and then we'd set up a yield potential and we basically were able to fill that. So 3.7 tons and less than 1% screenings.

So when we wanted to also look at the effect of soil moisture on ground cover because I do believe that ground cover is one of the most important components of the no-till farming system, what we found was significant difference between retained residue and remove residue.

So we had soil moisture probes under these different plots and under one plot we removed the residue, under the other plots, we left the residues. These were replicated plots with multiple treatments. And we can see over here on the right that when the rainfall's occurring we're having significantly better soil moisture accumulation where the stubble has been retained. So much so that over that two month period in the top 90 centimeters of the soil, that's the equivalent of about 120 millimeters or 4.7 inches of extra soil moisture over that two month period, which in our farming system is huge. So ground cover is the king of that part of the system.

So next I'd like to just turn to summer weed control. And when I was doing the analogy with the paperclips and the magnet, we spoke about plants who evolved in hot or dry conditions, having a better ability to pull more paperclips off and move us to a soil moisture deficit. So the data for us, we are a very hot summer and mild winter environment. We grow our crops in winter and basically we have fallow in summer.

If summer weeds get away, it costs us big time in yield. And so ensuring that we're not transpiring in summer is a big part of our farming system. That might not be as relevant to you guys, but be as it may, it's a key driver here. And that also I guess moves into the summer cover cropping too. Very much enthusiastic about increasing plant species diversity in the farming system, always having cover, but having a living root around the year is very difficult in our situation.

And this yield map over on the right shows that on average this particular grow was losing a ton per hectare of yield from trying to grow cover crops. And those cover crops weren't necessarily very successful. That's okay. But in terms of the amount of moisture deficit that we get going into our prime production area, there's still a fair bit of work to be done to assess where the cover crops are really providing a benefit that we need in our system.

Certainly, in the cooler higher rainfall areas that we have cover crops are looking pretty useful, but in the drier hotter areas it is very problematic and just trying to retain soil moisture is the key focus in those areas.

With regard to residue, this is a lentil crop. It's actually got linseed companion cropping in with it. That's simply because lentils after they're harvested don't have a lot of residue and the residue basically disappears quite quickly, whereas the linseed is quite a persistent residue. So just trying to maintain that ground cover.

This is where I want to sort of talk a little bit about drought on drought and that is that if you have a crop in a drought that looks like it's failing, there's a temptation to go and bale it up and sell it off as hay or to harvest it and because of reduced yield and reduced income to potentially go out and bale the straw. And David's got some good data that he'll talk to. But I guess what we've seen is a lot of regret about cutting crops for hay.

So generally speaking, we've found that trying to push the crop through to a grain crop is a better result and leaving as much residue in the paddock in a drought as possible. And look, believe me, we understand the temptation to go out and bale the straw and get the extra revenue, but when you look at the gross margin of that after the compaction, compaction is not as bad obviously when it's dry, but there's still some, the traffic is also wearing away and dusting up the soil and making tracks. But losing that residue from the soil surface can have multiple bad outcomes.

Erosion through wind being a significant risk and we don't have a lot of topsoil, so protecting our soil from just blowing away is super important. But the other one of course, is then the subsequent moisture infiltration that I showed on the graphs before, where retains double is getting more moisture into the surface.

And when rain does occur in these drought conditions, we need to capture every drop. So the economics of actually baling straw up in droughts to get the extra income, in the bigger picture for a drought on drought... So you're in a drought, you feel you're going to monetize your ground cover, if you do that and then you have another drought, that's a disaster. And with that, I'll hand over to David to give you some figures in and around that.

Michaela Paukner:

I'd like to take a moment to thank our sponsor. The Andersons. A thoughtful, well-designed nutrient management program is essential to maximize crop productivity. Providing the right nutrients at the right time throughout the growing season is key to achieving high yields. The Andersons' high yield programs make it easy to plant season-long nutrient programs for corn, soybeans, wheat, and many specialty crops. Visit to get instant recommendations to improve your nutrient efficiency and yields. Now let's get back to the conversation.

David McGavin:

Yeah. Greg is, as I mentioned, down in the bottom of South Australia, so the soil type is a lot different to the heavier clays you get up north, but all the principles are basically the same. Stubble cover is king up there up in the top and the bottom, a lot of stripper fronts starting to come back. We saw stripper fronts I guess for harvesting rice back in the nineties and now they're starting to come back in particular down in South Australia where they're trying to leave all that stubble on the ground, rolling it down so they've got a good cover.

Everyone would be familiar with a stripper front, just taking the heads off. So that's seeing a resurgence where a lot of guys have got combines with a stripper front and a normal head, you call them don't you? Not a header front. And also weeds.

So up north we might grow a lot, the heavier clays will let you grow bigger weeds, whereas down south the weeds might be smaller but at the same time the heavy clays up north are harder to get the moisture back out of. When we get rainfall that heavy clay hangs onto the moisture a lot more than what the sandier soil types do in the south. So the point is...

So in 2014 the season started well and we had moisture then just never rained again. So we found the crop coming a long way through and then we started to see these areas here that you could visually see, they were struggling. The sorghum went all pineapple, just wasn't recovering. So we took the decision, got to remember if it was this year or a previous year, I think it was a previous year, we did have ourselves a baler.

It was a silage wrapper. So we thought why don't we just go and bale some crop and the numbers look good of course when you're in the middle of a drought, fodder is always at a premium. So we did make some reasonable money off it. We went and removed certain areas. We did other areas in larger chunks as in different blocks and we cut more out of and a bit more uniform than what you see here.

But this one shows a bit more of the tail of what happened afterwards. So you can see we've gone in and baleed it intentionally. You can see why I struggled to farm with my father a little bit because he got on a bit of a tangent, took a little bit out here and a little bit here and a bit here. But if we look at the very next slide, this is the following year's crop where we planted durum in here.

So durum back on top of the sorghum and this is the yield map from the following year. And if you just take a look, so there is obviously some impact, there's a reason that the sorghum in that area in 2014 was struggling. It's not as good a soil type. It generally looks as good but just can't hang onto the moisture like the other areas. But there's a direct correlation to where we ran the baler and exactly where the yield suffered the following year.

So if you look at the yield map here, the heavy green areas, metric tons to the hectare. If we work out what five metric tons to the hectare is, so 74 bushels per acre. So that's a reasonable yield for us. We followed through a fairly dry time. This is a good yield map, it's not a fuzzy one and we've got a good precision plant monitor in the cab.

So it's a good solid yield monitor. And then if we look down in these areas here, they're not even on the scale, like they're under 3.7. So my guess is they're down in the two ton, so less than half. So that year there I think durum was about $600 a ton or $600 for every 36 bushels. So up here we will have been at five ton. So we've been 5, 5, 25, 2.7, two and a half thousand a hectare. So we're a thousand dollars an acre or so up the top here and almost half in these areas.

So what we picked up in the baling I guess is what I'm trying to get to... What we picked up in the baling, we lost probably in the first year and then subsequently after that we're still struggling. So how do we rectify that? We've gone to the trouble to try and plant different varieties in there.

So you can see the correlation here. It's basically exactly where we cut. I said righto, what are we going to do about that? Fixing this problem that we've created by baling. And we ran a various machine across it, only reason being I wanted to know the difference in soils. I didn't want to go back through yield maps. I wanted to just know is this soil type different in this area to this area? Then we used some of that harvest mapping to generate a multi-hybrid mappings.

So now all the sorghum is planted with two different varieties. We use vSet Select if anyone familiar with that precision plant stuff. It's got some pretty good technology where we're using two seed hoppers delivering different varieties like instantaneously, one turns off, the other one turns on and it drops a different variety down. So this is our multi-hybrid map where we'll plant two varieties here.

The Scorpio here, you think about that, when I got into wanting to fix this problem and do multi-hybrid, I had no idea what to base that map off and how to think about the inputs being what variety. And I spoke to one guy and I can't remember who it was and he summed it up as we think of the two varieties as an irrigated variety and a dry land.

So if we've got on the best part of our farm, we're going to have areas that will perform like an irrigated farm and there's other areas that are going to perform like a dry land farm. So we just grab two varieties, one that just loves to perform no matter what and we put it in irrigation and this MR Taurus here, it'll perform and hang on a lot more. So yeah, that's how we're trying to fix the problem to overcome the baling, which seemed like a good idea at the time.

Basically, I think we were 40% of the farm was the irrigated variety and 60% was the dry land variety. I know we even upped variability quite a lot. I think we took our average, sorghum yield, when it started to rain from that six and a half ton, almost a ton up. So it wasn't so much improving the good areas, not trying to lift the good areas up because they were already good, they got good moisture holding capacity but it was stopping those dry areas from failing and failing to the point where they're sorghum or milo you call it, would fall over.

So it certainly helped us. I've moved away from the farm now. I help my father when he got a problem with his planner, but every year the phone call comes in and says I need that multi-hybrid map. And when I started on the farm, all the soil types were the same but as far as that goes, he's been farming there since the sixties and he's convinced that not all the soil types are the same and they require different varieties on different areas.

So the multi-hybrid thing's been really good for us. So yeah, that's a roundabout way, how some of the conditions we are suffering in Australia, we've come to live with droughts. That seems to be normal if you get out into those western areas I mentioned before, which is Western New South Wales, you're going four hours from the east side, you go four hours inland and you get out to Walgett Burren Junction.

I know the names don't mean much to you, but there's a band of country out there where farmers are farming a hundred thousand acres and 60, 70, 80 and more. Big farms with big machinery and they're prepared for a failure. So they've just come off the back now of two good seasons and they will be prepared to sit out two or three if they need to and just shut the farm down.

So sometimes you get a perception about Australia that, "Oh, I don't know how you farm there." That the whole Australia's like that is definitely not... We've got areas, nothing like Illinois, but we've definitely got areas that are very consistent and there are smaller areas... My father's farm, a thousand acres, that's small for where we are, but a 2,000, 3,000 acre farm is consistent.

So yeah, it's probably a little bit like America and Canada where the more productive the land is quite often the smaller the holdings and then the less productive, the more area you need. But I know now we've come out of those couple of drought years into flooding, flooding where guys have lost complete... Had knee-high water over all of their crops or more. When you get out west, it's quite flat in Australia, so they know that flood's coming and it's coming in a week's time and they just prepare themselves for it.

So on the flip side to that, it's only just around the corner before they want to plant winter crop again. So some of these guys have lost 40 and 50% of their area. Some, I got one customer in mine that has lost a hundred percent. He wasn't particularly phased about that because the water went over it and they put dry land cotton straight on top of it. So that's, I guess, the flip side. That's why I guess everyone here is farming and optimistic, farmers in Australia are no different.

Not a lot of technology in Australia created. So we really benefit heavily from anything that's created or coming out of the US and farmers tend to embrace that technology really quickly in Australia because we need to in order to survive. So camera sprayers for us, WeedSeeker and WEED-IT, camera sprayers, I guess a little bit like the John Deere See & Spray, that is on a lot of farms and anyone that can afford to have one of them, is going to have it. And when you get into those bigger farming areas, they've all got that kind of camera spray system because they need it to reduce input costs. So yeah, when technology like auto steer all that stuff, Australian farmers adopt it very quickly, which helps me. I'm a precision plan dealer and that's really taken off for us. That's all we do now, sell and service planting equipment. So on that, have we got any questions so I don't go off on a tangent and start talking about precision plant equipment.

Speaker 4:

Are there any corn variety that can survive? Something or just because you guys grow in the winter and you have a summer, you don't even... Anything that's lagging in summer, is it just not make it?

David McGavin:

Yeah, well, I guess I've probably painted a picture again of how the dry time in Australia, once you... On my father's farm for some idea we could probably grow corn there. I mean, 10 years ago that was the dream, I wanted to be a corn grower. Well, the next best thing is growing sorghum, sorghum is like a small corn plant and we just treat it exactly the same as corn.

We use wire drops and just do everything to do with corn to dry land sorghum. But when you get closer to the range, which it varies, there's a range that runs up the east coast of Australia, so you get into the more coastal stuff, they're all dry land corn over there and good yields.

There's a lot of Australia that does rely a hundred percent on moisture, but there is a lot of it that is good farming area. Once again, nothing like Illinois. I don't know what we'd compare ourselves to realistically, states because I haven't traveled enough of America to know. Maybe up South Dakota. I don't know.

Speaker 4:

Is there just no groundwater availability for irrigation?

David McGavin:

I would say yes, in general. Anywhere there can be pivots, they're getting used. It's fairly, heavily regulated, I don't know what it's like here. I've got a mate or a friend over there in Texarkana and he's pumping out of that Red River as hard as he can pump it. Certainly, nothing like that.

It is very heavily regulated and the cotton industry is surviving basically on large dams. So we've got a large dam right where we live and it'll feed the cotton growers out around Moree, probably I'd almost go as far as saying probably a third of the cotton that's grown in Australia is getting fed from that one large dam, the irrigated cotton. And that's full now and it's only filled about five times I think since the seventies. And that's going to feed that cotton area for three years without any additional rain. So the cotton is generally coming out of dams.

Speaker 4:

Is that cotton from skip row?

David McGavin:

Anything that's irrigated, they're full plant and it's normally 40-inch. There's a little bit of 30-inch cotton, but when you talk dry land, there's a lot of dry land cotton, opportunity cotton there and there is skip row 60-inch. We've even got some growers that are right out at 90-inch. Yeah.

One thing I would say as far as the cotton goes, if you want to learn something about cotton, the cotton industry in Australia is amazing. They're somewhat like a group of... I spent the last couple of days at Precision Farming Conference where it's just a group of precision farming dealers sharing ideas and the cotton industry in Australia is a lot like that, where everyone shares ideas and they've got some good technology out there. There's a lot of money that goes back into research. I think $50 from every bale's, got to go back into research there via Monsanto or Bayer. So yeah, the industry as a whole in Australia's very good and strong.

Speaker 4:

Are your weed crops facing, [inaudible 00:37:57]. Up there it's seven and a half, fifteens.

David McGavin:

When you get up north, where we've got heavy clay, there is a lot of 15-inch. Down south where Greg's at and it's dry, I'd go as far to say, I'm not an expert down there, but it should be 15-inch spacing, but they can't grow 15-inch because they've got weed pressure. So they need to be there even moving backwards from 10 back to sixes and sevens sort of thing. But yeah, there is a lot of 15-inch grown up north, but 10-inch is common or yeah, 15-ish.

There's not a lot of it. And we probably could do a better job of focusing our energy on getting some more growers into it. Anyone that has started down that line that we've helped enable has stayed there. But it takes someone that's a smaller grower or someone that just wants to do the job properly and has got a bit more time on their hands to do it and it makes sense.

I've planted a small amount myself and when I saw it come out of the ground, it was like a light bulb moment and I thought that's how it's meant to be. Because on the spacing of wheat or something like that, winter cereals, if you go and take a ruler and measure out an area and then you just start removing the plants that you really don't need there, you're probably going to pull a third of them out.

And then with that, some of our guys that are spacing winter crops out, durum in particular are seeing less disease in the bottom leaves and they're out on the 15-inch spacings, less disease in the bottom and better grain fill, they're not losing yield and they're out on that 15-inch space.

And so yeah, I think it's got a future and if we had more time on our hands, we've been trying to grow our own business and build up through that drought, which we have been growing it quite substantially. If I had a spare time and to put someone on that and focus on singulating wheat or winter crops in general, I think it'd be a big market.

I think farmers in general just want to see even distribution, that's probably the next step. Not so much singulating spacing. Horse, you're doing a little bit of that, not right to the high end, 99% spacing, but good spacing.

I think farmers just in general want good distribution out of cedars. We see and we do a winter crop monitoring system and it's wildly variable between, depends how you've routed your hoses or on the air seed of the distribution is wild.

So I think farmers just want to see an even distribution to start with, but...

Speaker 7:

[inaudible 00:40:59] as a controlled traffic, how many people are doing that?

David McGavin:

Yeah, that's a good question. So controlled traffic that is very area based, again. My wife's over here and I'm going to pick on my brother in a minute, just because he is down in Victoria and it's the bottom half is not focused on that controlled traffic as much. They may go out and spray just because their fields are a certain size, that's how they go and spray. But certainly... So I guess they're somewhat planting and spraying on the same tracks just because of the size of their field and how they do it with their AB.

Whereas up north where it is very common, they're not driving vehicles across the paddock, they're not doing anything off those spray tracks. And then when they're coming in with the combine, the grain cart is staying out, they've got an Auger extender or a grain chute and the grain cart is staying out there. Different scenario down south where we were down there just before Christmas and the grain carts are just going everywhere in a wet season.

So up north it's just, they say 40% of that compaction is created in the first pass. So minimizing traffic on the field is probably not the answer. I think you've just got to, you'll see yield benefits from dead set staying on the same track.

Speaker 7:

How long do they keep the tracks [inaudible 00:42:39]?

David McGavin:

That's just forever, ongoing. As long as they got them right the first time to the point where they're back wheel track renovating. In that heavy, black clay, it'll start to bulge out after a while and they'll drive them like that full of water and then they'll generally go down so deep and stay there.

But yeah, if they've put them in, I guess in the right orientation, they'll just leave them there forever. And we've got some growers that have got... There's a large grower up near Moree, Beefwood Farms, if you Google them, they're on YouTube, they've got automated tractors and their tram lines, just go east, west, simple as that. And some people are east, west, north, south, like to the T and that's just where it stays. But yeah, tram tracking controlled traffic I think is well proven, especially in the heavy clay soils that do compact badly.

Michaela Paukner:

Thanks to David McGavin and Greg Butler for today's conversation. A full transcript and video of this episode are available at The video shows Greg's demonstration and the graphs he references. So definitely review it for a deeper understanding of how soil moisture works. Many thanks to the Andersons for helping to make this no-till podcast series possible. From all of us here at No-Till Farmer, I'm Michaela Paukner. Thanks for listening.