Mallee Farmer Edition 16

Page 1

ISSUE 16 • Autumn 2020

Stock containment areas

A case study with Jason Marwood, Carwarp

Saving soil for the future A case study with Chris Hunt, Merrinee

Digging into the latest research on Mallee dune seeps

This publication is supported by the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA), through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

CONTENTS Seasonal Conditions: The Mallee was a tale of two seasons for 2019


A hand up, not a hand out – Mallee CMA Drought Employment Program


Sharyon Peart

Chairperson, Mallee CMA Board

Drought support programs available for Millewa farmers


The growing problem of Dune Seeps - What can be done about it?


Grazing and Conservation


Success with stock 16 containment areas. Case study – Jason Marwood, Carwarp Free insecticide resistance testing offered for green peach aphid


Maintaining Ground Cover In Dry Seasons. Case Study – Chris Hunt, Merrinee


Persistence of Plains-Wanderer in the Southern Mallee


A guide to Controlled Traffic Farming in the Low Rainfall Zones


Rabbit Free Australia is wild about rabbits

ISSN: 1839 - 2229

Cover Photo, Jason Marwood, supplied by Agriculture Victoria

Chair’s Report

Welcome to the 16th edition of the Mallee Farmer! As we head into Autumn 2020, we find ourselves taking part in a strange part of history. We are all doing our part to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Australia, while still carrying on with life the best we can, whether that be working on the farm, in business and/or in our communities. For many of us, it’s a really challenging time, but I hope you can take a moment to step away from it all and enjoy this edition of the Mallee Farmer.

Employment Program has given Millewa-Carwarp farmers a hand up during tough times; the range of support measures Agriculture Victoria has on offer for Millewa farmers; and what new research is telling us about the ongoing issue of Mallee dune seeps. This edition also features some really informative case studies – Jason Marwood from Carwarp shares his thoughts on getting the best use out of stock containment areas, while Merrinee farmer Chris Hunt talks about the importance of maintaining good ground cover in dry seasons. I hope you enjoy this edition and remain safe and well.

The great content in this edition begins with Kate Wilson giving an insight into the ways the 2019 season differed so vastly across the Victorian Mallee. As she aptly titled her overview, it really was a “tale of two seasons”! We also take a look at how the Mallee CMA’s Drought


NLP ACKNOWLEDGEMENT This publication is supported by the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA), through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. DISCLAIMER The information in this document has been published in good faith by the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA). This publication and the information contained within may be of assistance to you but the Mallee CMA Board and staff do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purpose and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence that may arise from you relying on any information in this publication. You should obtain specialist advice on the applicability or otherwise of the information in this document. Neither the Mallee CMA nor any of the agencies/organisations/people who have supplied information published in the Mallee Farmer endorse the information contained in this document, nor do they endorse any products identified by trade name. The information in this document is made available on the understanding that neither the Mallee CMA, nor any of the people who have supplied information published in the Mallee Farmer will have any liability arising from any reliance upon any information in this document.

Seasonal Conditions: The Mallee was a tale of two seasons for 2019 By Kate Wilson

Senior Consultant AGRivision Consultants PTY LTD As this article goes to print we find ourselves in unprecedented times. For farmers and those that support and work in the agriculture industries, I urge you to stay safe and look out for the safety of all those around you. No-one knows how this whole scenario will play out but I send prayers and best wishes for the best outcomes possible.

Seasonal Outlook

Kate Wilson

With areas of the Southern Mallee receiving anything from 50250 mm over the early summer period, things were cherry ripe for a fantastic season.

Our friends in the Millewa, sadly, were facing prolonged drought conditions. Many crops failed to establish and wind erosion mitigation was in full swing.

I often say to my growers at cropping time, that we never know what the spring will deliver but we do know our starting soil moisture levels.

There were some pockets of the northern region that got crop established but still had poor winter rainfall and hence below average yields.

Alternatively, the Millewa region was facing going into cropping with minimal soil moisture and already wind-eroding soils.

As the rain dried up in the second half of August, the frosts arrived and set the tone for the rest of the season.

The scenarios for the 2019 season across the Mallee were many and varied. Areas that had received good summer rainfall also enjoyed an early May break followed by average or better winter rain. There were crops set up with massive potential and many growers capitalised on this with topdressing of Nitrogen reached unprecedented levels.

Many areas cut extraordinary amounts of hay. The enormous demand from Northern NSW and QLD and the subsequent high hay prices made the cutting decision relatively easy and anyone who had grass issues or frost were able to cut with a reasonable amount of confidence.

Most areas actually had a decent winter and crops were ticking along nicely and set up for average or better yields.

In many areas hay returns far outweighed projected grain returns and there were some record yields. In a season of the Haves and Have Nots, grain yields varied from nothing to 6 tonne and

everything in between across the greater Mallee region. The further North we went, the drier it got and yields were well below average to unharvestable. The Ouyen region had a mixed return. With very localised rainfall events some couldn't miss the rain and others couldn't buy any events at all and yields reflected this. This now leaves growers at either end of the scale, at one end trying to hold wind eroded country together and the other trying to manage sowing through 5-6t/ha crop stubbles.

Pre-Emergent Herbicides Care will need to be taken when choosing both the product and the rate of Pre-Em herbicide. The standard 2lt/ha of Trifluralin will be too hot in bare country and won't reach the soil in heavy stubbles. It will really be a year to work closely with your trusted advisor and treat each paddock on its merit as a blanket approach has the


potential to cause crop damage or disappointing weed control. Ryegrass numbers were high where there was sustained summer moisture. Propyzamide under Canola and Pulses will be a very handy tool to take the pressure off selective grass herbicides.


When doing a fertiliser audit this year it is important to look at nutrient removal and the requirement of the subsequent crop. Growing Barley back on a 4t/ha wheat crop will take a lot more P than we are used to applying. Subsequently on the bare, droughted paddocks, these may need additional fertiliser to normal as well due to the minimal nutrient cycling

that has occurred over the last 18 months or so. Consideration should be given to sowing with as much starter Nitrogen as your system allows to get crops up and away this season.

Deep Ripping

Following a successful Deep Ripping field day in 2018 and launch of a number of industry projects, there were some phenomenal results from formal trials conducted by Michael Moodie within the GRDC Sandy Soils project and others as well as many anecdotal results from growers who did their own onfarm trials last summer. Deep ripping of sand has become the next frontier to unlocking (or in many cases,

The season began with high hopes for a good harvest. Photo: Mallee CMA


re-gaining) the potential of our sands. Some surprising results from deep- ripping prior to sowing pulses has also been interesting.

Link To GRDC Deep Ripping Communications paddock-practices/keyconsiderations-before-deepripping-sandy-soils grdc-update-papers/2020/02/ the-hows-and-whys-for-rippingdeep-sandy-soils-of-the-lowrainfall-mallee

A hand up, not a hand out – Mallee CMA Drought Employment Program Page 2

By Lauren Murphy Mallee CMA

After numerous failed cropping seasons in the Millewa, Victorian Government funding made it possible for the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA) to deliver a Drought Employment Program for Millewa-Carwarp farmers during 2019-20. “It’s saved us,” said local farmer, Robert, who was one of about 20 people to have taken part the Mallee CMA’s Drought Employment Program (DEP) during 2019-20. As he explained, the program has been a financial lifeline to many. “You’ve got everything going out, you know, when a bill comes in you pay it, then you pay the next one, but during a drought like this, you’ve got nothing coming in,” Robert said. The Mallee CMA DEP was part of the Victorian Government’s drought response package and provided flexible work options for people who suffered financial hardship as a result of the drought. It got underway before Christmas 2019 with inductions, and on-ground works commenced in early January 2020.

One of the Mallee CMA Drought Employment Program work crews during their time at the Millewa Pioneer Village. Photo: Mallee CMA.

Through this program, many kilometres of dis-used fencing was removed from public land near the Murray River, new fencing was erected where needed, tonnes and tonnes of litter was collected from areas along the river, and new visitor signage erected. Crews also undertook weed and pest control works and watered trees.

Participants also completed a range of training, including first aid, and chemical use.

In addition to this, some DEP participants also worked in the Mallee CMA office using their administrative skills, and another drew on strong community networks to undertake intensive extension work with Millewa-Carwarp community.

But this program was never just about the work. “I’ve met people I didn’t really know before and spending a day working with these guys is much better than being on the

farm all day by yourself,” Jim, a farmer from Meringur, said. For another participant, Anthony, the flexibility of the program made it work for him. “The program is flexible, which means if you have to go and do something on the farm, you go. You don’t get that in any other job,” he said. Some say the program has been a great learning experience; others say the program put food on their family’s table; and many participants say it saved them from debilitating depression. The community was also a


Executive Coordinator Communications T: 03 5051 4344 M: 0428 177 642

big winner from the Drought Employment Program, with a number of local organisations benefiting from work completed by the crews. The volunteer-run Millewa Pioneer Village was one such organisation. A drought employment crew spent time at the Werrimull tourist attraction undertaking maintenance, cleaning up the grounds, and other general duties. “The work and presence of the Team is to be admired,” John Fitzgibbon, a member of the Millewa Pioneer Village Committee, said.

Further Information

For more information, contact the Mallee CMA on 5051 4377.

Mallee CMA Drought Employment Program participants hard at work at the Millewa Pioneer Village during February/ March 2020. Photo: Mallee CMA.

Drought support programs available for Millewa farmers By Rachel Jacobson

Digital Communications Officer - Drought and Dry Seasons - Agriculture Victoria Millewa farmers affected by drought and dry seasonal conditions are encouraged to access a range of support including technical decision making activities, grant programs and community activities to improve reslilience to drought, manage immediate and long-term financial stress and support mental health.


Agriculture Victoria is providing ongoing opportunities for farm businesses to participate in a range of technical decision making activities to build skills and knowledge in feed budgeting, stock containment areas, feed testing, livestock requirements, biosecurity and

soil management. In addition to group activities, one on one consultations are also available, call 1800 318 115 to make an appointment.

Country Women’s Association of Victoria Drought Relief Program

A grant payment of up to $3000 per household is available for farming families, farm workers and contractors that are drought-affected and reliant on farming as their primary source of income. The payment can be used to pay for household expenses such as groceries, school fees, electricity, household rates,

3/29/2020 telephone and emergency dental and medical bills.

This program is open to applicants in the Millewa which includes the locality areas in North West Victoria of Carwarp, Cullulleraine, Lindsay Point, Meringur, Merrinee, Neds Corner, Wargan and Werrimull. To access an application form or to find out more go to or email

On-Farm Drought Resilience Program

The $5000 On-Farm Drought Resilience Grant Program is available to assist eligible farm

businesses to invest in on-farm drought infrastructure or to seek business advice. Eligible business decisionmaking activities will help farmers make decisions about how to manage drought conditions, reposition the farm business, improve onfarm practices or make a significant farm business change. Examples of business decision-making activities include engaging professional services to prepare, review or update strategic business plans or undertake a whole farm plan. The business decision-making component of this grant does not require co-contribution. Investments must have been purchased or undertaken on or after 2 October 2019. Eligible infrastructure improvements will improve drought preparedness and better position the farm business into the future. Examples of eligible infrastructure improvements include, constructing or upgrading a stock containment area, investing in reticulated water systems for livestock, drilling new stock water bores and desilting works of existing stock and domestic dams. The infrastructure component of this grant requires co-contribution. Investments must have been purchased or undertaken on or after 2 October 2019. This program is open to eligible dryland farm businesses in the Millewa which includes the locality areas in North West Victoria of Carwarp, Cullulleraine, Lindsay Point, Meringur, Merrinee, Neds Corner, Wargan and Werrimull. To access the grant or to

discuss your eligibility contact Rural Finance on 1800 260 425 or go to au.

and wellbeing support through community awareness and social and emotional wellbeing workshops and events.

Farm Machinery Improvement Grants

For more information call 1300 882 833 or go to

A grant of up to $10,000 is available per eligible dryland farm business to maintain essential on-farm machinery and equipment to meet key operational requirements and prepare for the 2020 growing season. The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) is delivering the Farm Machinery Improvement Grant Program to assist farm businesses in the Millewa region. For access the program or for more information contact the VFF on 1300 882 833 or email au.

Regional Investment Corporation – Drought Loan

The Australian Government, through the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC), is offering a low-interest Drought Loan of up to $2 million to help eligible farm businesses manage drought conditions, provide support for recovery and prepare for future droughts.

North West Dry Seasonal Conditions Coordinator

Sue McConnell is the NorthWest Dry Seasonal Conditions Coordinator and may already be known to many locals from her work with the horticultural industry. Sue is based at the Agriculture Victoria Irymple office at the corner of Eleventh Street and Koorlong Avenue, contact her on 0418 572 087 or email sue. mcconnell@agriculture.vic.

Further Information

Further Information about Drought and dry seasonal conditions support: Rachel Jacobson T: 8392 7192 | M: 0436 814 241 For more information on other available support contact Agriculture Victoria on 136 186 or visit dryseasons.

For more information contact the Regional Investment Corporation on 1800 875 675 or go to

Look Over the Farm Gate

Look Over the Farm Gate is providing funding for communities to deliver health

Sue McConnell, North-West Dry Seasonal Conditions Coordinator. Photo: Agriculture Victoria


Dr Chris McDonough, Insight Extension for Agriculture, Loxton SA

The growing problem of dune seeps - What Key messages can be done about it?

• Chris Seeps McDonough are rapidly growing as a result of modern farming systems, landscape and By Dr seasonal factors (both very wet and extended dry periods). Insight Extension for Agriculture, Loxton SA • Early identification and action is imperative and can be assisted through satellite Why does this trial work? of landscape, seasonal and the formation of perched water NDVI imaging. This work aims to give farmers farming system factors that led tables above areas of essentially • Specific must be applied to waterlogging, scaldingwithin and Recharge, imperviousDischarge clay layersand (such as practical solutions management for managing strategies Interception Zones to prevent this initial unused rainfall, fresh water problem the growing problem of Mallee salinisation of farmer’s most Blanchetown Clays) and water resulting in on large unproductive salinecropping scalds. ground. moving laterally toward lower productive Seeps, and is based 5 years also reduce lying areasoccurring. (as demonstrated of investigative monitoring and • Take action early to keepThey land productive and paddock prevent degradation efficiencies and increase risks of damage to machinery.

in Figure 1) to find surface expression where the clay comes to the soil surface in midThis work aims to give farmers practical solutions for managing close the growing problem of Seeps resulting from localised Modern farming systems which slopes or at the base of swales. Mallee Seeps, and is based on 5 years of investigative monitoring and trial work in the SA perched water tables have are dominated by no-till and This leads to waterlogging, Murray Mallee. become a degradation issue intensive cropping have led capillary rise, evaporation and across the cropping zones of to almost complete control of a process of surface salinisation Seeps fromthe localised water tables have becomeover a degradation issue across deep rooted/perennial summer time. SA andresulting Victoria over last 20 perched the cropping SA and Victoria 20 years, weeds over such the as last skeleton weedand have rapidly increased over years, and havezones rapidlyofincreased which in use to dominate seeps generally begin the last This This was was highlighted a recent survey mallee involvingThese 80 landholders across the as over thedecade. last decade. sand dunes. This has led to areas inundated with too highlighted in a recent survey Mallee region (McDonough 2017). The emergence of a seep is due to a combination of much greater amount fresh water but this involving 80seasonal landholders landscape, andacross farmingasystem factors thatofledsummer to waterlogging, scalding andwill lead to rainfall passing the Mallee region (McDonough salinisation of farmer’s most productive croppingthrough ground.sandy They permanent also reducesalinisation paddock and land rises that have very low water degradation if no remediation 2017). The emergence of a efficiencies and increase risks of damage to machinery. seep is due to a combination holding capacity. This results in takes place. It would appear trial work in the SA Murray Mallee. Why do this trial work?


Figure 1. formation The formation of Seeps, Mallee Dune adapted from (2017) p31, showing Figure 1. The of Mallee Dune adapted fromSeeps, Hall (2017), showing the threeHall key zones of recharge, interception and discharge. the three key zones of recharge, interception and discharge.

that many perched water tables have existed and become quite saline over a longer period, but have only more recently found surface expression due to changes in recent years. The key to managing seeps is to identify the problem early, assess and apply appropriate management into the three key zones of Recharge, Intercept and Discharge areas (see Figure 1).

How was it done?

This paper presents findings and strategies resulting from a number of seep monitoring projects conducted over the last 5 years funded through NLP, NR SAMDB, GRDC and MSF, involving 7 sites over 6 farms. Each site has involved the use of moisture probes, piezometers and rain gauges with continuous data loggers, along with detailed landscape soil testing and treatment monitoring to more accurately assess the dynamics of the catchments and impacts of rainfall events and various management strategies. The farmers have been directly involved in developing and applying practical strategies to remediate the problems in each catchment. While results and new approaches will continue to develop, there are already many important understandings, outcomes and strategies that farmers and advisors can use now to deal with this growing land degradation issue.

What happened and what can be done? Identifying the problem

There are a number of key indicators that a seep area may be forming. Initially, and often more evident through

drought years, the crop below a sandy rise or lower in a catchment area may produce substantially higher growth or yield, due to accessing the extra moisture from the beginnings of a perched fresh water table. It is not uncommon to find a distinct saturated layer of soil within the top 1m (sometimes slightly deeper) where this is happening. Ideally, this is the time to commence remedial action, well before it turns into an expanding and degraded soil area. This early phase is usually succeeded by ryegrass becoming very thick and dominant through cereal or pastures. Ryegrass tends to be more tolerant and responsive to these conditions, persisting well into summer with a very large seed set (likely to have a high percentage of hard seed). It is not uncommon for farmers to find tractors suddenly sinking to their axles and major operational disruptions occurring around these sites by this stage. As the seep area grows and the perched water table gets closer to the surface, bare scalded areas will start to emerge, essentially due to anaerobic soil conditions that are detrimental to most plant growth. Depending on rainfall and landscape factors, it is possible that surface ponding may occur for extended periods after rainfall events. This is a critical phase, as these bare soil conditions, particularly over the heat of summer, will lead to capillary rise of the moisture, evaporation and accumulation of salt at the soil surface to levels too toxic for crop growth. In recent years it has become evident that while the wet years (such as 2010/11 and 2016)

have resulted in much of the excess water issues occurring in these catchments, it is the drier years with less plant growth and longer periods of heat and evaporation that greatly exacerbate the spread of surface salt accumulation. The use of NDVI satellite imaging to identify seeps and their potential growth areas. Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) has grown in prominence in recent years as a way of monitoring crop and pasture growth in precision agricultural management. NDVI images can be obtained from both drones and satellites, and essentially indicate areas of higher or lower vegetative growth through spatial colour images of targeted paddock areas. In 2017 a NR SAMDB project (McDonough 2018a) found that strategic use of NDVI imaging can identify both the early formation of mallee seep areas as well as the potential threat to surrounding areas. There are numerous NDVI satellite monitoring programs being used by consultants and farmers, such as Data Farming and Decipher. These satellite images are convenient and free to access for the levels required for this purpose, and have now become a vital tool for seep management. A guide to the use of an NDVI mapping program is available on the MSF Mallee Seeps Website at http:// The key principle is to look at multiple cloud free images through the Oct-Dec periods. A perched water table has areas of soil that remain wetter for longer, resulting in extended periods


action immediately, rather than just watch the degradation develop over time.

Figure 2. NDVI 16showing th Octlarge 2017 showing areas under threat from seep degradation. Figure 2. NDVI Map 16thMap Oct 2017 areas under threatlarge from seep degradation. of plants growth, particularly in

crop growth which may be

strategies are implemented as

areas that have already dried out at this time point. These sites can then be analysed to assess the extent to which the seep is impacting the landscape. The main advantage of using NDVI imagery is that it will show the extent to which the seep areas are likely to grow to if nothing is done. In many cases it has been revealed that an easily identified bare patch of 0.2ha has the potential to develop into 5ha or more, due to the clear indication of excessive water and growth in the surrounding area. This helps provide far stronger incentive for a farmer to take remedial action immediately, rather than just watch the degradation develop over time.

truthing of images, along with local farmer knowledge is vital in ensuring an accurate assessment of the satellite images is made. For instance, frost events can lead to crops reshooting late and staying greener longer in low lying areas. Summer crops or uncontrolled summer weeds may also lead to similar NDVI image colours as seeps, as can trees or other perennial vegetation. Cloud cover and shadows from clouds can also cause distortions and misinterpretations, which is why it is often important to view multiple images.

the normal paddock activities. Some strategies may even lead to higher paddock productivity. However, some less convenient changes may be necessary in order to protect a greater area of productive land heading towards problems and total degradation if nothing is done.

Viewing images throughout growing season may also identify areasIdeally, of poorthese crop contributing to recharge annual species and this clearlythedirectly soonspecific as possible. growth mayand be directly recharge after areas can thenfitbe after rainfall. toThese areas canrainfall. shows upwhich as greener greater contributing should These be designed to best targeted for within specific management options. Groundfortruthing along with local be targeted specificof images, plant growth these areas, then within the farmer’s systems management options. Ground ofwith contrasting with normal minimal images disturbance to farmer knowledge is vitalcrop in ensuring an accurate assessment the satellite is made.


Viewing images throughout the growing season may also identify specific areas of poor

Key management zone strategies

Once areas with seeps and those areas threatened by seep formation have been identified, it is important that management

There are three main areas within these local catchment systems that need to be identified (see Figure 1). These are: 1. Recharge Zones – where most of the excess water is entering the system; 2. Discharge Zones – where the problems are developing at the soil surface (often in midslope or lower lying areas); and 3. Potential Interception

water table rise.

Figure 3. Midslope (RO2 Piezometer) water table rises after specific rainfall events in mm, as stated along the line (Nov 2015-May 2018) at Wynarka

Zones – where higher water use strategies can utilise the excess water before it reaches the discharge zones. It is generally a combination of management strategies targeted in each zone that is required to stop the spread of these seeps and possibly bringing these areas back into normal production.

Recharge Zones

Deep sands (often non-wetting) are the main source of extra water moving into the discharge zone. This is because they have very low water holding capacity and soil fertility, and are often suffering compaction to levels that prevent plant root penetration below 20 cm. This means that even relatively small rainfall events can quickly pass through the root zones to contribute to the perched water table above. Figure 3 shows rises in the water table at a mid-slope piezometer between Nov 2015 and May 2018 (including the wet Spring of 2016 of 130 mm) at Wynarka. The perched water table at this site is below the crop root zone, so any rise is a direct impact of

rainfall contributing recharge from the 60m of sandhill slope above the piezometer. Any fall in levels is likely due to discharge, evaporation or transpiration of the water lower in the system (particularly in the hotter summer periods), or in some cases a bulge of water may be moving down the slope after a larger rainfall event. It reveals that a 40 mm rainfall event raised this midslope water table by over 40 cm. Smaller events of 12 mm and 15 mm during the 2017 growing season led to rises of 15-20 cm. Even a sudden 7 mm rainfall event in Dec 2016 caused a 10-15 cm water table rise. The key principles for managing these areas is firstly to break any soil compaction, as this will increase plant root zones from around 20 cm of depth to as much as 150 cm (as observed at one site). This also allows crops to dry out these new rootzones to wilting point, meaning that any summer rainfall will have a larger bucket to fill before it starts contributing to recharge. This will also lead to greater crop yields and water utilisation. Further





amelioration that incorporates clay or nutritious forms of organic matter such as manures into the top 40 cm has been shown to greatly improve soil water holding capacity within this rootzone. This was clearly evident at a Karoonda seep monitoring site, where the spading in of chicken manure has produced well over double the crop yields over a 4 year period, and soil moisture probes showed excellent soil water retention within the 40 cm spading depth which was utilised by the crop. This was in direct contrast to the control plot which had low yields, very little soil moisture use by crops below 30 cm depth and numerous rainfall events contributing to recharge (McDonough 2018b). Any practical, effective and safe method of achieving sand amelioration through deep ripping, delving, spading, clay spreading or manure/organic matter/nutrition incorporation will be beneficial in remediating these sandy recharge zones. Current research is developing more options for farmers in this pursuit. Some farmers have decided their deep sands are not worth


cropping and have chosen to establish permanent perennial, deep rooted pasture options such as lucerne or veldt grass. This becomes a more viable option for farmers with livestock, providing valuable feed options at critical times. However, care is needed in establishing these pastures into adequate soil cover within favourable seasons. One cooperating farmer in 2019 chemically fallowed his sandhill until sowing lucerne in August, avoiding the dry May-June period with high wind events, and achieved an excellent stand as the soil warmed up in Spring.

Discharge Zones

The main principle for discharge zones is maintaining living soil cover all year around if possible.

This greatly reduces capillary rise of moisture to the surface, and evaporation leading to surface salt accumulation, because plant roots will be drawing the moisture from deeper in the profile. Bare soil, over the summer months and dry seasons, will lead to a rapid deterioration of these soils into unproductive saline scalds. However, the strategies used to best manage this will depend on the development stage of the seep. When a perched watertable is in its early stages and is mainly resulting in increased yields with some patches suffering from saturation, it is important to maintain cropping through these areas, without getting machinery

Dr Chris McDonough digging into the causes and control of seeps. Photo: Mallee CMA


bogged. As soon as practical after harvest a summer crop should be sown in these zones. A mixture of sorghum and millet has been successfully used over 3 seasons by farmers at the monitoring site near Mannum. These crops will only grow well where the excess moisture is accumulating, and soon die out in the dry sandy soils surrounding the seeps (with little summer rainfall). The summer crops are cut or harvested prior to seeding the winter crop. This has not led to any loss of crop yield as a saturated soil layer is still evident despite the growth of the summer crop. While this technique does not address the problem at its source, it does greatly reduce the soil degradation, with minimal impact on the

still important to employ these strategies on the edge areas to help stop the growth of these bare seep scalds.

Figure4. 4. Recent salt scald being restored to cropping adding surface Figure Recent saltdemonstration scald demonstration beingby restored tosand cropping by adding surface sand

farmer maintaining their normal cropping program. However, this method will only be affective long term if management strategies are also employed to address the excess water emanating from the recharge and moving through interception zones. It is important that all sites are water and soil tested to guide the type of remediation action appropriate for each specific site. If the scald is already established surface salinity or waterlogging to severe for crop growth, then perennial salt tolerant pastures such as puccinellia or tall wheat grass should be established. Success has been achieved using airseeders where possible. Dragging harrows behind a four wheeled motorbike and seed spread through a rabbit baitlayer has been used successfully where heavier machinery has been too risky. While it has been reported that puccinellia is suitable for areas with moderately high to very high soil salinity of 8 to >32

dS/m, and tall wheat grass being slightly less salt tolerant at low to moderate levels of 0-8 dS/m (Liddicoat and McFarlane 2007), current trial demonstrations have shown good and poor establishment in a variety of sites and salinity levels, highlighted by some excellent puccinellia establishment on a crystalline salt covered scald at Wynarka. In some cases, tall wheat grass has established later in the season where puccinellia has not grown, even though they were sown together in the same seed mixture. The salt tolerant annual legume variety Messina has also been tried but has generally not established well on bare scalded sites. Saltbush has been grown and grazed successfully in some seep areas, but has not survived well in the most saturated areas that are subject to periodic water inundation. It is becoming apparent that successful establishment of these pastures can sometimes

be dependent on seasonal factors and more specific soil parameters, which may not have been considered in previous work based more on saline water table sites. Even slight raises in surface soil levels or organic matter content have been shown to make a difference. For example, current monitoring of scald sites have been found some to have extremely high pH, approaching 11, which is toxic to most plant growth.

The MSF Seeps project is aiming to better understand these various parameters. This will provide more accurate and relevant information for managing these scalded areas. Soil qualities at different time throughout seasons, and where plants have and have not established need to be measured. The surface crust (often black) is being measured along with 0-10cm samples, as they may provide important insights into critical soil issues. Initial success has been


within cropping paddocks will present some compromises, it is still better than losing greater areas of highly productive land to spreading seeps.

Figure 5.1m Top soillevel moisture level comparisons of lucerne &2015-May cereal treatment Figure 5. Top soil 1m moisture comparisons of lucerne & cereal treatment areas (July 2018) 2015-May 2018)


areas (July

achieved with a front end loader clay layers (Figure 1). They In the extremely wet season of to add 10cm layers of sand, provide the opportunity for 2016, the midslope piezometer While and mostmanures farmers to do bare not wish tointerception plant treesand in the middleinofthe cropping paddocks, water utilisation lucerne was the only itsite straw beforeparticularly it causes problems in to experience a reduction may still to consider, where a fenceline or laneway already in scalds andbe toan getoption salt tolerant the discharge The most towater table. grasses established even exists, and where aand large amount of water areas. use is required reduce an emerging seep. successful strategy applied a cereal crop at one site (Figure If planting close to seeps, it may be worth testing the water quality to assess whether 4). These sites will be monitored within all monitoring sites has Farmers are targeting strips of more salt tolerant species may be required. This project found greater success where over coming seasons to see if been the strategic establishment lucerne (often 30-50 m wide) tree guards protected the seedlings from vermin and some early wastodone to in this zone to produce abovewatering seep areas intercept they deteriorate over time, or of lucerne or pasture, as its sandy roots soils. the lateral water flows. Even ensure summer on thehay deeper non-wetting continue towards survival greater soil penetrate deep into the perched cropping farmers can gain improvements. water table layer throughout the profits from this by selling In areas that already have salt year. Lucerne especially takes lucerne hay and through scalds and are too toxic for re- advantage of large summer prevention of seeps to maintain Crops can be establishing crop growth, it is rainfall events that are usually crop yields. still important to employ these a key source of recharge water sown through these lucerne and is a versatile option that is strips, so establishing lucerne strategies on the edge areas to familiar to many. Figure 5 shows in the same direction as cereal help stop the growth of these that each major rainfall event in a sowing may be worthwhile, bare seep scalds. lucerne area was quickly utilised even if it takes more initial and there was no evidence of effort. While encompassing Potential Interception recharge happening. This is these lucerne strips within Zones in contrast to the continuously cropping paddocks will present There are often areas below cropped side which regularly some compromises, it is still recharge zones where there is has 60-70mm more water in the better than losing greater areas lateral subsoil flow of excess top 1 m soil profile and water of highly productive land to water above the impervious passing beyond the rootzone. spreading seeps.

While most farmers do not wish to plant trees in the middle of cropping paddocks, it may still be an option to consider, particularly where a fenceline or laneway already exists, and where a large amount of water use is required to reduce an emerging seep. If planting close to seeps, it may be worth testing the water quality to assess whether more salt tolerant species may be required. This project found greater success where tree guards protected the seedlings from vermin and some early watering was done to ensure summer survival on the deeper non-wetting sandy soils.

New innovative strategies being tested

The MSF Seeps Project is currently exploring a number of trials and demonstrations including the use of a subsoil extruder on deep sands above a seep at Alawoona. This machine profiles a manure slurry behind its multiple deep ripping tines. This is much safer for wind erosion than spading in manure, and initial results have been promising for improving crop production and water use. Other trials are assessing the use of other subsoil amelioration techniques, alternative pasture species, methods to maximise crop water use and longer season varieties. Another site will assess the practicality of establishing an in-ground sump just above a seep scald area to pump water out to be stored and used for either spraying, livestock or liquid fertiliser application. Early water quality measurements at the particular site has presented some challenges, but work is ongoing.

What does this mean?

Localised seeps are a growing land degradation issue across cropping zones of southern Australia, and come about through a combination of landscape and seasonal factors as well and changes associated with modern farming systems. New technologies such as NDVI Satellite imaging are providing important resources for the identification of developing seeps and the potential threat posed to farmers’ paddocks if left unmanaged. There are a variety of strategies that have been identified through a number of seep projects in the SA Murray Mallee in recent years that provide practical options for farmers to apply into the 3 critical areas of Recharge, Discharge and Intercept Zones. More work is currently refining these strategies through the MSF Mallee Seeps project that aims to improve water use efficiencies and remediation of these issues.

Murray Mallee. Bow Hill: Kevin and Geoff Bond; Wynarka: Peter Rose, Andrew Thomas, David Arbon Karoonda: Stuart Pope, Simon Martin Alawoona: Lachie Singh Rainfalls Av. Annual: 285-342mm Av. GSR: 194-235mm

References •


The research undertaken for this article has been largely funded by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program and the South Australian Murray Darling Basin Natural Resource Management Board. The current MSF Mallee Seeps Project is made possible by the significant contributions of growers through both trial cooperation and the support of the GRDC, as well as the co-investment of the National Landcare Program’s Smart Farming Initiative and the South Australian Murray Darling Basin Natural Resource Management Board.


Various demonstration/ monitoring sites across the SA

Hall , J. (2017). Mallee Dune Seepage in the SA Murray Mallee - Summary Report. Natural Resources SA Murray Darling Basin, Dept of Environment, Water & Natural Resources, Government of South Australia, Murray Bridge. https://data.environment. REPORT_NRSAMDB_Mallee%20 Dune%20Seepage_Summary%20 Report_2017.pdf Liddicoat, C. and J. McFarlane (2007). Saltland Pastures for South Australia, Dept of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation (South Australia). https://www. e n v i r o n m e n t . s a . g o v. a u / f i l e s / sharedassets/public/science/kbsaltlandpasturessamanual.pdf McDonough, C. (2017). Mallee Seeps Farmer Survey 2017 Report for Mallee Sustainable Farming. https://www.naturalresources. sa_murray-darling_basin/land/ reports_and_case_studies/malleeseeps-farmer-survey-2017-rep.pdf McDonough, C. (2018a). The Use of Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to Manage Seeps. Martins Report, Karoonda. SA Murray Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Board https://www.naturalresources. land-and-farming/soils/malleeseeps. McDonough, C. (2018b). Monitoring Mallee Seeps Summary, Project 1569C for the South Australian Murray Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Board. https://www. sharedassets/sa_murray-darling_ basin/land/reports_and_case_ studies/monitoring-mallee-seepsjun18-rep.pdf


Grazing and Conservation By Cameron Flowers Mallee CMA

One of the tools commonly used to protect and enhance remnant vegetation and habitat for threatened species is the removal of stock. This is usually done through the use of stock exclusion fencing or the periodic relocation of stock to allow time for the recovery and regrowth of native vegetation. The removal of inappropriate grazing pressure is particularly important to protect threatened flora and to provide habitat and food sources for native fauna.


However, in some cases grazing by stock can be beneficial and is needed by some of our most threatened native plants and animals to provide the optimum habitat conditions for their survival. The endangered bird species, the Plains Wanderer, has specific habitat requirements which can be facilitated through carefully managed grazing. Plains Wanderers live in open grasslands where they feed on seeds and insects. An appropriately designed grazing regime can play an important role in maintaining the openness of these grasslands to the level preferred by the birds. Ecological grazing, where grazing is managed and monitored, can be a benefit to conservation and, with the case of the Plains Wanderer, provide the “Goldilocks condition� that this species needs: grasslands that are neither too high nor too low. This does mean that any grazing will need to be managed closely to ensure overgrazing does not occur and that certain seasonal periods will need to be avoided, for

Bush Stone- Curlew. Photo: Ian McCann

example spring time during seed set. Importantly, this management technique does not exclude stock completely, allowing grasslands to be used as potential stock feed sources for much of the year.

growth. (This may be due to the threat of predators.) In these cases, grazing can be beneficial by reducing the amount of grass cover to normal levels while taking care to keep stock away from nesting sites.

Another threatened bird species that can at times benefit from grazing is the Bush Stone Curlew, which is listed as endangered in Victoria. Bush Stone Curlew inhabit open, lightly timbered woodlands with a low, sparse grass or herb understorey. They have been known to leave and avoid areas they habitually frequent if these become overgrown, which can occur after large rainfall events and subsequent prolific grass

Some native plants may also benefit from grazing as a management tool. Chariot wheels is a small, perennial native species found on the heavier grey clay soils of the plains. It tends to grow in shallow depressions, often on eroded or scalded surfaces. Grazing is not generally recommended in areas where this plant is found, but again, if carefully managed, grazing can be used to benefit Chariot Wheels. It can prevent

grazing. Although overgrazed paddocks will affect their breeding, the birds will still be able to survive temporarily. However, where paddocks are under grazed the movement and feeding of the birds will be restricted and they will generally leave the area. It’s important to leave some cover in summer as it can take twice as long to return the cover of a bare paddock. Given this, the use of stock containment areas to manage summer and autumn dry period grazing and paddock cover is highly recommended. Grazing for conservation is about both stock management and flexibility. The right time to remove stock from a paddock may not be the right time to sell that stock. Having another paddock of the right size and with feed to where stock can be moved may be needed. In times of drought or low feed availability this may mean using a stock containment area where supplementary feeding can be done until conditions improve.

Further Information

provide a source of feed for stock. This does not apply to all native vegetation types and areas but can work in the right circumstances.

For further information about conservation grazing please contact: Cameron Flowers, Southern Mallee Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator Email: Cameron.Flowers@ Phone: 0427 509 663.

Grazing management can require time and energy but it is about securing the optimal, long term results. When managing grazing in areas where Plains Wanderers may be present, overgrazing will be less detrimental than under

The Southern Mallee Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator is supported by the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA), through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Cameron Flowers assessing ground cover. Photo: Mallee CMA

it from being outcompeted or choked by grasses in good seasonal conditions with heavy growth of the understorey or after unseasonal summer flood events. When managed correctly, grazing for conservation can benefit both the environment and farmers by helping to improve and manage native vegetation while still allowing an area of vegetation to


Success with stock containment areas Case study: Jason Marwood, Carwarp By Sue McConnell

North Western Dry Seasonal Conditions Coordinator Agriculture Victoria Simplifying stock management at busy times of the year is one of the unexpected advantages Mallee farmer Jason Marwood is noting from using containment areas on his Carwarp property. The Marwood family developed their first stock containment area years ago – but Jason is changing direction and has used the pens more intensively in recent years. They’re not only providing better turnout results, but operationally, they’re allowing Jason to manage busy times of the year more efficiently, and with less stress. “I will probably put all my sheep in at crop sowing in future because you know where they all are, they don’t need to be

moved from one paddock to the other and it’s much better for monitoring their condition and what they are up to.” “It’s quite quick to check them, do the daily watering and checks – but going around them in the paddocks is a half-day job, which is time you just don’t have at crop sowing time.”

Site selection

The Marwood’s chose a relatively flat site on well-drained lighter soil. “The site is close to the hay shed, silo and our other stock management facilities just for practicality,” Jason said. “It’s tucked in behind a hill and

we pushed it up as close to the tree line as we could to make it as sheltered as possible. “It’s a flat site, but the soil is sandy and that’s been good because even after a lot of rain it isn’t muddy at all. One pen is maintained as a quarantine site, where all stock sourced from outside properties are held before they’re shorn, and backline treated for lice.


The property is reliably supplied with water from a pressurized system from the Murray River. A 20,000-litre holding tank provides security of on-farm supply and troughs

Take advantage of natural topography when setting up stock containment areas. Photo: Agriculture Victoria.


Effective feeders are paramount. Photo: Agriculture Victoria.

in the containment areas are supplied from a two-inch pipeline. Six hundred litre water troughs are used and are cleaned out daily.

Design and feeding

Each of the areas are about 50 x 50 metres in size and designed to hold up to 500 sheep. Five pens run either side of a centre laneway running the full length of the yards. A water trough and bulk feeder is in each yard, along with access to salt. Large hay and straw bales are readily available, fed from the ground. A new feeding site is used with each new bale to reduce erosion and distribute the remaining fibre across the yard. Jason installed shelters in each yard for shade. The structures, about 1-1.5 metres high, were constructed from second-hand tin, timber and treated pine posts and are being well-utilised by the sheep.

Shaded structures are well used. Photo: Agriculture Victoria.


“Being so low, the sheep seem to like to get in under them and in that way, they’re quite practical. I was a bit afraid they might get on the roofs, but that hasn’t been a problem so far.”

Stock management

The use of the areas allows Jason to hold on to stock much longer than would have been possible using paddocks alone.

“It’s definitely a process I’m learning more about and plan to use more in the future.”

Further information

For more information on managing sheep during drought and dry seasonal conditions visit dryseasons contact your local Agriculture Victoria office or call 136 186.


Free insecticide resistance testing offered for green peach aphid By Francesca Noakes

Research Adoption and Extension Scientist, cesar


This article provides information on insecticide resistance testing for green peach aphid on offer to grain growers and advisors in the 2020 and 2022 growing seasons and the risks posed by insecticide resistance in this pest. • Green peach aphid is an important vector of Turnip yellows virus in canola crops. • Green peach aphid has evolved a level of resistance or reduced sensitivity to all

Green peach aphid. Photo: Cesar


insecticide modes of actions registered for use on grain crops in Australia. • cesar will be offering insecticide resistance testing services to grain growers and advisors across this year’s growing season as part of a new GRDC initiative aimed at improved knowledge and management of this pest. A new research initiative is investigating the geographical distribution of insecticide

resistance in green peach aphid across Australian grain growing regions.

Free resistance testing for growers

Mallee growers and advisors are encouraged to submit green peach aphid (Myzus persicae) specimen to the National Aphid Insecticide Resistance Surveillance (NAIRS) program for resistance testing. The free testing service will be offered to the grains industry throughout the 2020 and 2022

growing seasons and will help improve our understanding of distributions and levels of resistance in green peach aphid populations across Australia.

The scourge of the green peach aphid The green peach aphid is a wellknown pest to Australian canola growers. Tending to appear in crops early in the season, the green peach aphid feeds on a variety of broadacre, broadleaf pastures and horticultural crops. However, critically for canola growers, the pest is also responsible for the transmission of Turnip yellows virus (formerly known as Beet western yellows virus) to Brassicaceae crops. Crops infected in the early seedling stage can experience yield losses of over 40%, therefore reducing transmission rates of Turnip yellows virus is an important goal for many industries including broadacre. The green peach aphid demonstrates some level of resistance or reduced sensitivity evolving to all five insecticide modes of action registered for use on this species in grains – reducing available chemical control options against the pest. Resistance testing undertaken in recent years has shown many green peach aphid populations to be highly resistant to synthetic pyrethroids and carbamates, moderately resistant to organophosphates and lowlevel resistance developing to neonicotinoids. Previous research undertaken by cesar, the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) and CSIRO also

detected a reduced sensitivity to sulfoxaflor (Transform®) in multiple populations from the Esperance region of Western Australia. Sulfoxaflor is the only active registered for use by the grains industry that remains fully effective against green peach aphid. If resistance to sulfoxaflor was to spread to other green peach aphid populations, it would represent a substantial threat for growers’ ability to control this pest effectively.

A new project underway

NAIRS is being undertaken as part of a new four-year GRDC project, led by cesar, and in collaboration with CSIRO, DPIRD, ISK, BASF and Corteva. The project will be developing new resistance testing methods, evaluating the risk of resistance evolution to new insecticides and developing improved knowledge on the dispersal patterns of green peach aphid and the Turnip yellows virus across seasons. By the project’s end in 2023, the project partners hope for growers and advisors to have a better understanding of the risks of Turnip yellows virus transmission and improved tools for managing insecticide resistance in green peach aphids. Submit your aphids for testing If you are a grower or advisor and have: • Spotted green peach aphid in your crops and they are not problematic; • Have a problem controlling green peach aphid in your crops; or, • Suspect


resistance in green peach aphid or other aphid species on your property; you are encouraged to contact Dr Marielle Babineau, Research Scientist – Entomology, cesar (mbabineau@, regarding the resistance testing service. The National Aphid Insecticide Resistance Surveillance (NAIRS) program is part of a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) initiative led by cesar in collaboration with CSIRO and DPIRD. Funding for the project is provided by GRDC, Corteva, BASF and ISK. This article draws on the findings from previous GRDCfunded research. See: Jones et al. 2007. Yield-limiting potential of Beet western yellows virus in Brassica napus. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 58:788-801; Umina, P. 2019. Green peach aphid shows signs of low-level resistance to insecticide. Ground Cover. 29 June 2019.


Dr Marielle Babineau Research Scientist – Entomology Cesar Pty Ltd 293 Royal Parade Parkville, VIC 3052 Tel: +61 3 9349 4723 mbabineau@cesaraustralia. com If you are unsure if you have green peach aphid, you can contact the PestFacts southeastern team at cesar for free aphid identification assistance (pestfacts@cesaraustralia. com).


Maintaining Ground Cover In Dry Seasons Case Study – Chris Hunt, Merrinee By Sue McConnell

North Western Dry Seasonal Conditions Coordinator Agriculture Victoria

Farm Information Producer: Chris Hunt Location: Merrinee (30 kilometers west of Mildura) Property size: 5200 hectares (four properties) between Merrinee and South Australian border Rainfall: Long term average annual: 278 mm 2019: 78 mm – 87mm across farms Soils: 30 per cent heavy grey and stone type soils, 40 per cent sandy loam, 30 per cent deeper sand

For Chris, it’s about putting in place robust plans and systems that work across the range of climatic possibilities in the lowrainfall region.

have set cropping per centages that we stick to so that year-onyear, we know what our cropping mix is and what it will be next year and the year after that.

And it’s a philosophy that seems to be working.

“We have a bank of information that tells us the things we know about working with this soil and in this climate, and it just doesn’t make any sense to be trying to make decisions on the hop and to guess what might happen.”

Chris, his father Colin and brother Anthony, began shifting the family farming operation to a more sustainable, minimal till model from the 1990s. They take a year-round approach to soil protection using techniques that achieve effective ground cover, then protect it, mitigating the risk of soil erosion and preventing problems before they occur.

Make A Plan, Not A Decision Enterprise: Cereal and legume crops, export hay production, Merino sheep (700 ewes) Merrinee farmer Chris Hunt’s approach to his farm management remains largely unchanged despite the driest two-year period on record in the Millewa region. 2019 was the region’s driest year on record at Merrinee, but more than half of the Hunt farm’s cropped area was harvested.


Heading into 2020, the property is well-stablised with ground cover and stubble, including large areas of fragile, light sandy soils.

Chris says maintaining yearround soil cover is less about decision making and more about having a plan that works. “Farming is like any other business. It can be tough, but so can any business,” Chris says. “There are definitely nice lifestyle things about it, but first and foremost you have to work at what pays the bills. You have to try and remove your emotion, and that’s what good planning does – it takes the emotion and a lot of the stress out of what needs to happen and when. “With seeding, we work to a calendar, not the weather. We

The Farm Business

The Hunt farms are spread over four properties but are managed as one complete operation. Ninety per cent of the property area is cropped every year – a mix of cereals, legumes, fodder and hay crops (Figure 1). Cereal crops (wheat and barley) account for about 50 per cent of the farming operation, with sheep fodder crops approximately 10-20 per cent, export oaten hay 5-10 per cent; chemical fallow 5-10 per cent; and the remainder of the cropped area under legumes, vetch, field peas and, when conditions allow, chickpeas and lentils. There is little bare fallow in the rotations and cropping paddocks are maintained with a cover of stubble or plant residue, or, at worst, cloddy soil. After selling out of cattle, the Hunts began to stock sheep in 2017 for the first time since the 1970s, to allow another element of diversification to the business. “Again, we’re not attached

got it done and the little rain events were enough to get crop established on the sand areas. “May brought some little rains of maybe 5mm and 8mm and we ended up with something like 20 mm in four little events.

Merrinee farmer Chris Hunt

“On the sand, that’s enough to get things going, and that’s the main priority. To get that cover, so that if nothing much happens from then on, then you do have that cover in place.”

emotionally. They are sheep and they are part of the business. They have been good to us, but they are sheep we’ve bought, and they can be sold – we’re not holding onto them for emotional reasons, you just make decisions.”

“By late June most of it was held. The soil had crop cover and was waiting for something to happen. As it turned out, that big rain didn’t eventuate, but we did have the cover in place on the little rains we had.”

The Plan

Slowing Down To Reduce Risk

The cropping program is done to the calendar not to weather conditions. “The way we managed seeding was the key to setting up the year. If you don’t get country covered by June, the windy months of late winter will get you – July, August and September,” Chris says. “At seeding, ideally you have a big rain and you go hammer and tongs to get it all done, but that doesn’t always happen. “In 2019 for example, we just made a start and the calendar rolled on and we just kept chipping away at our plan, crossing paddocks off our list. “The bulk went in dry – and the way the year went, you were never going to win waiting for a big rain to come. It just never did. “But by just chipping away we

“One of the keys for us in 2019, though, I think, was in slowing down the seeding speed. “We had come out of a light rainfall year in 2018 and the rain that came in November was only a 30mm event, so when we began seeding, the country was already very fragile, and we didn’t want to turn it to powder. “We were trying to cover areas that were blowing a little, some due to grazing and some due to lack of ground cover with legume crops where erosion starts at the spray tracks.

“When you get to a rough spot you cross sow it, so it has the roughness about it, but it also has more seed, with the aim of establishing good cover as quickly as possible. “We got a good result there. The country is stabilised and had good cover over summer and we’re now actually going into 2020 in a much better situation.”

Weed And Disease Control

Chris says the weed and disease control program on the property is rotation-based. “That’s our key focus in planning our rotations – so you are not trying to deal with train wrecks as the year unfolds. “In terms of in-crop weed control, rotation is front and foremost – then chemical controls around that, both pre-emergent and in crop. “Even if a paddock is not being cropped, we keep the summer weeds and fallow weeds under control to try to conserve moisture. Chris said he believed it was an important management tool to turn off boom sprays when applying pre-emergent chemicals in erosion prone sandhill areas at risk of drift.

“So oats that we would normally sow at 12 km an hour, we came back to 8 km per hour. It costs you time, but it cuts the risk.

“We were using chemicals for broadleaf weed control in vetch, barley and pea vetch mixes, usually in a blanket spray across the paddock,” Chris said

“In those problem areas, we also used the seeder to make the country as rough as possible, with clods and furrows and ridges.

“The knife-point seeding system lifts the chemical back off the crop, but if sand is drifting it can shift the chemicals back into the seed row and bring them into


contact with the emerging crops. “It can leave fragile country exposed and leave you with bigger erosion problems. “It wasn’t a large per centage of the paddock, but we did turn it off here and there, where we thought that was a risk.” Chris says chemical control and its associated costs are largely predictable elements of the cropping program. “Of course, you get ‘out-ofthe-box” situations, where you might have to chase a fungal infection with some fungicide but year on year, we know what we are going to be doing. From one year to the next, we can calculate fairly accurately what our inputs and our chemical use will be.”

Rotation Rules

Chris says the farm cropping programs are set following some important guidelines: • Cereal grain predominantly on legume or fallow • Field peas only on better soil types • Oaten hay on legume stubble or fallow (avoid paddocks with barley grass history) • If there are paddocks where grass numbers are building (for example brome, barley, rye grass) aim for a four-year grass control phase and use vetch early in that phase • Vetch barley fodders in paddocks with barley grass and brome grass

Tinkering The Plan


Even though the Hunts farm management is carefully planned, however Chris says

Chris Hunt is looking to preserve farm soils for future generations. Photo: Agriculture Victoria

it doesn’t mean there aren’t decisions to be made along the way in response to emerging conditions. “They’re just not those big decisions. So we haven’t sown chickpeas for two years, even though that was our plan at the beginning of both 2018 and 2019. “When we’d got to the end of May and it was still dry in both years, we knew conditions would not be right to get the chickpeas established. “So in 2018 we dropped that area to extra field peas, and in 2019 we changed it to chemical fallow area and, again, moved some field pea area around. “Another decision we took during the year was not to spread any in-crop nitrogen. “As a rule, you would like your nitrogen and sulphur to be spread by mid-June – but we didn’t get the rain that would give us a level of confidence. “So, you reduce machinery movements and the risk of creating more soil movement

which reduces cost as well. “We put out 24-40 kilograms of Urea SOA at seeding, but our grain protein levels at harvest showed us we were underdone in nitrogen, so we will look to get our rates up at seeding in future.”

Sheep Management

“The decision to get into sheep in 2017 was a good one, I think, because sheep prices have been fairly strong,” Chris says. “But again, it has to come back to planning and modifying the plans when the conditions change. We’d planned to have 1000 ewes on hand by 2020, but we have 700 ewes. “We lambed the bulk of the ewes in stock containment because of the conditions, then earlyweaned our lambs, and sold our oldest ewes off. “Generally, we prefer to use our containment areas early to let the country get cover and get some feed ahead of us. “Sheep will nip off everything, so we like to get crops up and well

established first. If the crop is up and the soil is held, the situation is much more forgiving even if it does turn dry. There’s more root system to hold the soil together, even once it is grazed off. “We have also taken the decision to agist 300 of our ewes further south. We have unharvested crops and stubble to put them on, it’s just the country is so fragile.”


The Hunt’s six year average across the operation is 1.54 tonnes to the hectare for wheat and barley. In 2019, on less than 100 mm of rain, the combined wheat and barley yield was 0.65 tonnes to the hectare across the operation. “Some was pretty good, some was pretty ugly, but that was our average. “A lot of the heavier soil types we didn’t harvest, none of the field peas made it to harvest, none of our hay crops made it to harvest, but we did manage to harvest our oats for seed.

moving at the moment but as a per centage it is not a lot. “Conditions hopefully don’t get any worse in 2020 than they were in 2019, but we had country that was pretty scary that we managed to cover – and plenty of people elsewhere did too.

Golden Rules • Lighter soils are the most reliable production areas, year-on-year…but they are also the most erosion-prone • Maximise the retention of stubble and ground cover at harvest and monitor grazing impacts • Push to get seeding done and crops up and established before the windy months of late winter • If areas are exposed, consider how you are managing pre-emergent chemicals • Try to use plant numbers and fertiliser applications (increase seeding rates and

fertiliser) to establish cover quickly every year – to get plants up and growing as quickly as possible • Use in-crop nitrogen management to maximise outcomes when possible • Try to manage the in-fallow scenario – how often you are using the same spray tracks – and use different work lines • Manage stock carefully, including decisions around grazing crops which won't make harvest -- ground cover is rapidly removed by grazing and often provides little feed and there is a fine line between having enough (or not enough) cover to hold the soil.

Further Information

For more information go to dryseasons, contact your local Agriculture Victoria office or call the Customer Service Centre on 136 186.

“2018 was an ordinary year at around 120 mm rainfall, but at that we can hold our own. “2019 was the driest year on record here – it was next level – and we went backwards a bit. But we took 390 tonnes of grain (wheat and barley) on our home block (Merrinee – 1320 ha cropped) from 78 mm of rain. “And even in 2019 we still achieved about 90 per cent of our rotational aims in terms of our cropping program and weed control, management of ground cover and sheep feed. “We have a little bit of country

Any ground cover is good cover in a dry season. Photo: Agriculture Victoria


Want to be mailed a copy of the Mallee Farmer? The

Mallee Farmer

ISSUE 14 • Autumn 2019

ISSUE 15 • Winter 2019



An insight into biodynamic farming in Murrayville

p1 Say hello to Kate our new reporter


Weed management strategies to address herbicide resistance

ISSUE 09 • Winter 2015


New ideas the key to farming in Werrimull

p23 Sheep and goat EID update

p27 Ripper of a time in the Mallee

Featuring CTF Case Studies and Research Trial Results Galore weed seed

Celebrating Rob Sonogan’s outstanding contributions to Sustainable Farming in the dryland Mallee

Using harvest management to win the fight against brome grass p2 This publication is supported by the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA), through funding from theAustralian Government’s National Landcare Programme.

This publication is supported by the Mallee Catchment Authority (CMA), through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

This publication is supported by the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA), through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

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This publication is supported by the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA), through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Persistence of Plains-wanderer in the Southern Mallee By Cameron Flowers

Mallee CMA The Plains-wanderer: an ancient member of Australia’s avifauna under threat of extinction The Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus) is the only surviving member of the family Pedionomidae, a family of birds found only in eastern Australia. It has no close evolutionary relatives: there is literally no other bird like it. The species is an ancient member of Australia’s avifauna and its origins can be traced back over 60 million years (Department of Sustainability and Environment, 2003). Rapid declines in the number of Plains-wanderers between 2010 and 2014 led to the conservation listing of the species being upgraded from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Baker-Gabb, 2014). The species has very particular habitat requirements and, as a ground-dwelling and nesting bird, is extremely vulnerable to predation.

The habitat requirements and distribution of the Plains-wanderer

The Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus) is a small, quail-like bird and is usually seen singularly but may also occur in pairs and in small family groups of up to five birds (Baker-Gabb, 1987).

The Plains-wanderer occurs at scattered sites in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, with the mainstay of the population in the Riverina region of southwestern New South Wales (Baker-Gabb et al., 1990). The current stronghold of the Plains-wanderer in Victoria is the Northern Plains. The species breeds in solitary pairs and feeds on a mixture of native grass, chenopod seeds and leaves, and invertebrates. Habitat structure is extremely important for the species. It inhabits sparse, treeless, species-rich, lowland native grasslands, optimally with bare ground (50%), herbs and grasses (40%) and fallen litter (10%) (Baker-Gabb, 1990). The species is known to actively avoid areas of dense grass or other vegetation (Baker-Gabb, 1988) and areas in close proximity to living or dead trees (Baker-Gabb, 2014). Breeding success is often linked to environmental conditions with drought conditions and heavy rainfall being unfavourable for breeding (Baker-Gabb et al., 1990). Habitat loss is the main reason for the species’ steep decline in numbers and contraction in geographic range, with over 95% of the grasslands that the bird once occupied having been cleared (Bennett, 1983). There are only between 250-1000 birds left in the wild (BakerGabb, 2015). The current distribution of the Plains-

wanderer within the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA) region occurs in its southern section around Birchip.

What are the threats to Plains-wanderer?

There are several key threats that affect the persistence of Plains-wanderer. The National Recovery Plan for Plainswanderer (Commonwealth of Australia, 2016) lists these threats and they include: • Habitat loss: Fragmentation of habitat has caused populations to become isolated from one another; • Inappropriate grazing: Both overgrazing and insufficient grazing have the potential to negatively impact on the species; • Small population size: Increased extinction risk due to their current low population size. • Predation: Predation by foxes, feral cats and raptors, which are all potential predators; • Planting and natural recruitment of trees in or near native grasslands: Plains-wanderer avoid being in close proximity to living or dead trees; and • Other potential threatening processes such as highintensity, large-scale fires, lack of appropriate burning regimes and climate change.


Plains-wanderer. Photo: D.J. Baker-Gabb

When was the last survey conducted in the Mallee CMA region?


Plains-wanderer are known to persist in two locations within the Mallee CMA and have been recorded on properties at Birchip and, more recently, at Ned’s Corner Station. While no formal surveys have been undertaken in recent years, two projects were conducted between 1993 and 2000 at Birchip (Maher & Baker-Gabb, 1993; Webster, 2000). Results from the 1993 surveys found a strong positive correlation between areas with the highest

numbers of Plains-wanderers and threatened grassland plants. Habitat preferences for Plains-wanderer were comprised of grasslands which didn’t support dense pasture growth under any seasonal conditions and in particular where soil had been eroded to reveal the red clay substrate, while still having sufficient cover for concealment from potential predators (Baker-Gabb, 1993).

Surveying for Plains-wanderer with song meters

To address important knowledge

gaps around the persistence of Plains-wanderer in the Birchip and Nullawil areas of the Southern Mallee, the Mallee CMA worked with Trust for Nature and Birchip Landcare Group to develop a five year project that would deliver against the National Recovery Plan for Plains-wanderer. The resulting project involves members of the Birchip Landcare Group reviewing and ground-truthing earlier records of sightings in the Birchip and Nullawil areas, and identifying and assessing additional sites of suitable habitat within

these areas. Song meters are to be used to monitor for the presence of Plains-wanderer. Song meters will be installed on-site, with Trust for Nature training participants in the deployment of song meters as a survey tool, and the gathering of data. The final data analysis will be undertaken by Trust for Nature as part of the Iconic Species: Plains-wanderer project.

What has been delivered so far? Year one (2018-19) of the project targeted the Birchip area, with Trust for Nature and the Birchip Landcare Group participants reviewing and ground-truthing earlier Plains-wanderer records in this area from the 1993 Maher and Baker-Gabb survey and from the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas and BirdLife Australia databases. A factsheet about the Plains-wanderer and a draft habitat management guide for landholders were developed to inform the community about the species and to facilitate Plains-wanderer conservation in the region. Trust for Nature trained participants in the deployment of song meters and data gathering techniques and data analysis was undertaken by Trust for Nature. Participants were also able to identify and assess additional sites of suitable habitat within the Birchip area.

What future works are planned?

Year two (2019-20) activities will include re-surveying 1,600 ha of sites surveyed in 201819, and a survey of 400 ha of additional sites of suitable habitat around Nullawil. The spread of environmental weeds

can damage Plains-wanderer habitat and extensive weed control will be undertaken. A total of 1000 ha of habitat will be treated for Weeds of National Significance (WoNS) including African boxthorn, Cactus species and Bridal Creeper to enhance the condition of suitable habitat across the Plains-wanderer’s range. Further communication materials will be developed to inform the community about the project’s activities and raise awareness of Plains-wanderer conservation in the broader community. The delivery of works has been made possible through a successful partnership between the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (Mallee CMA), Trust for Nature, and the Birchip Landcare Group.


This project is supported by the Mallee CMA, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Further information

Cameron Flowers, Southern Mallee Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator, Mallee Catchment Management Authority PO Box 5017, Mildura, Victoria 3502. T: 0427 509 663 | E: cameron.

References • Maher, P. N. and Baker-Gabb, D. J. (1993) Surveys and conservation of the Plainswanderer in northern Victoria. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Melbourne. • Baker-Gabb, D. J. (1987) The

conservation and management of the Plains-wanderer Pedionomus torquatus. World Wildlife Fund Report 49:140. • Baker-Gabb, D. J. (1988) The diet and foraging behaviour of the Plains-wanderer Pedionomus torquatus. Emu 88: 115-118. • Baker-Gabb, D. J. (1990) The biology and management of the Plains-wanderer Pedionomus torquatus in NSW. NSW NPWS Species Management Report No. 3, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Sydney. • Baker-Gabb, D. J. (2014) ‘Not happy wanderers’. Australian Birdlife. June 2014: 6-7. • Baker-Gabb, D. J., Benshemesh, J. and Maher, P. N. (1990) A revision of the distribution, status and management of the Plainswanderer Pedionomus torquatus. Emu, 90: 161-168. • B ennett, S. (1983) A review of the distribution, status and biology of the Plains-wanderer Pedionomus torquatus Gould. Emu 1-11. • B oulton, R.L. and Lau, J. (2015) Threatened Mallee Birds Conservation Action Plan, Report June 2015. Report to the Threatened Mallee Birds Implementation Team, BirdLife Australia. • Commonwealth of Australia (2016) National Recovery Plan for the Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus). • Department of Sustainability and Environment (2003) Flora and Fauna Guarantee Action Statement # 66. • Mallee Catchment Management Authority. (2013) Mallee Regional Catchment Strategy 201319. Mildura: Mallee Catchment Management Authority. Webster R. (2000) Assessment of Plains-Wanderer Sites in the Birchip District. Ecosurveys Pty Ltd, Deniliquin, New South Wales.


A guide to Controlled Traffic Farming in Low Rainfall Zones By Rebecca Mitchell

Land Management Development Officer, Agriculture Victoria

Early growth of Wheat at Loxton in non-trafficked plot.

Lining up the tracks and wheels.

Controlled traffic farming (CTF) is a production technique that confines the wheels and tracks of all cropping equipment to 12-18 per cent of paddock area. This leaves the remaining area of the paddock uncompacted and in optimum condition for crop productivity.


CTF is becoming widely adopted in the Australian grains industry, with a national average of around 30 per cent of farms using the system. However; the low rainfall zone (LRZ) of southeastern Australia is a marked exception with a much lower adoption rate of 5 percent. To investigate how CTF fits into the LRZ of south eastern Australia, five years of research, development and extension was undertaken from 2014 – 2019 under the GRDC funded project “Application of controlled traffic farming in the low rainfall zone”.


A key output of this project was the development of an online publication ‘On the right track: Controlled traffic in the low rainfall zone of south-eastern Australia’, launched in early 2020. This publication summarises findings and outcomes from the project and is designed to support deliberations about CTF in the

LRZ of south-eastern Australia by providing locally developed insights into its impacts and tips on how best to implement it. As well as general information about CTF in the LRZ that will support decision making, the publication is packed with practical information that will help interested grain growers to adopt the system as smoothly and inexpensively as possible. The publication includes practical guides to CTF, grower experience case studies, research results and the findings of several other CTF studies which investigated specific questions of interest to growers.

Practical Guides

Provide general information about certain aspects of CTF. This section is designed to highlight benefits and possible constraints of CTF and suggest solutions to these constraints in the LRZ.

Case Studies

Showcase growers who have grappled with the adoption of CTF. These growers hope their experience will help others achieve a smooth transition into CTF.

The publication includes research findings from sites around the LRZ representing the four main soil types. This research has shown that many soil types in the LRZ are susceptible to compaction as a result of machinery trafficking.


The project has also demonstrated other benefits from the adoption of CTF. These benefits include some energy and fuel savings, protection of investment in soil amelioration (e.g. ripping on deep sands) and reduced loss of available nitrogen from nitrous oxide greenhouse gas emissions. It was also shown that machinery trafficking can have a negative effect on soil microbiology and nutrient availability on Mallee sands. Through its research and development work the project concluded that there is evidence farm machinery traffic can, and does, cause yield-limiting soil compaction across the LRZ of south-eastern Australia. Something all LRZ growers need to take notice of. The publication can be found on the Australian Controlled Traffic Farming Association website

Rabbit Free Australia is wild about rabbits

Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia Inc A unique new book about rabbits in Australia – ‘Those Wild Rabbits – How They Shaped Australia’, authored by writer and conservationist Bruce Munday - is about to be launched, and the Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia’s (RFA) is pleased to be a sponsor. Those Wild Rabbits tells the tale of the European wild rabbit in Australia through the eyes of those associated with it - the people who brought it here, had fun shooting it, wept over its devastation of everything they valued, dreamt of controlling, searched for cures, and rejoiced when their efforts finally paid off. It is an internationally important story about the introduction of feral pests and the crucial research needed for their control. Established in 1992, the Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia has a vision of Australian landscapes free of their most notorious vertebrate pest – the European wild rabbit. The Foundation has a catchcry of ‘Bilbies not Bunnies’ and its mascot, the Easter Bilby, leads its public campaign to rid the bush of wild rabbits and reclaim country for Australian plants and animals. European wild rabbits are widespread in Australia and destructive to natural environments and primary production. Rabbits adversely affect over 150 threatened native species, change landscapes, and cause losses of over $200 million a year to agricultural production. For twenty-five years the Foundation has managed a

Myxomatosis trials, Wardang Island, SA 1938. National Archives of Australia

single purpose fund to support research, raise awareness and encourage on-ground action, directed at eradicating wild rabbits from Australia. Much of its effort is focused on research for biological controls, and it is Australia’s only publiclysubscribed fund to focus on means to eradicate European wild rabbits. It was research which provided the great Australian breakthroughs in rabbit control of Myxomatosis in 1950 and the Calici virus (RHDV) in 1995.

‘In our 25th year we are proud to be a sponsor of this important and well researched book – Those Wild Rabbits’, said Peter Alexander, Chairman of The Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia. ‘The book highlights the damage that wild rabbits cause and celebrates the critical need for ongoing research to maintain control’, said Mr Alexander. ‘We urge anyone with an interest in the environment or agriculture to join the Foundation to help maintain the national research effort – and all members signed up as at June 30th will go into a draw to win one of three copies of Those Wild Rabbits’.

For More Information Horse drawn dray load of rabbits, circa 1890. National Archives of Australia.

Without those endeavours the nation would still be battling plagues of rabbits in farmlands and in nature parks. RFA is committed to supporting continuing research as the only way to sustain the benefits gained and deliver the next innovation.

To join RFA, or for more information about Those Wild Rabbits – How They Shaped Australia, visit the Foundation’s website; www.


Peter Alexander – 0417 010 359 or


Photo courtesy Ben Gosling.

Mallee Catchment Management Authority P 03 5051 4377 F 03 5051 4379 PO Box 5017 Mildura, Victoria 3502

This publication is supported by the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA), through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.