Refining seed and fertiliser applications for higher yields

Kingara Farms grows crops on about 6,500 hectares of land. - Photo: Kingara Farms
Kingara Farms grows crops on about 6,500 hectares of land. - Photo: Kingara Farms

Kingara Farms in South Australia uses a range of precise applications to optimise the use of its different types of soils. It’s a constant search for more efficiency, higher yields and lower costs, Director Tim Polkinghorne explains.

The family took its first steps in variable rate seed fertiliser with an air seeder more than 20 years ago. “That’s where it all started”, Tim says. “Manually adjusting it on the go, before prescription maps took off. We had prescription capabilities before we started using them. Only recently we got all of our software aligned and our first prescriptions set up. Now we are actually using the technology.”

John Deere GreenStar

Kingara Farms uses its applications through John Deere GreenStar. “We use the prescription function in the John Deere operations Center”, Tim explains. “This platform stores the online data that we collect. We go into the Operations Center, bring up the paddock we need, and create a prescription. We can base it on yield performance, our protein maps or purely altitude.”

Tim says the tops of the hills in their sandy soils are generally lighter and perform poorer. “We increase seeding and fertiliser rates on them, increasing cover and biomass to bring the overall yield of the paddock up.”

Because of the variability of the soils of Kingara Farms, some parts of the paddock are better suited to wet seasons, while other parts perform better in dryer seasons. “The heavy ground responds well to rain, but doesn’t hang on in a dry finish”, Tim says. “While the sandier country will often hold on and conserve moisture in a hard finish to the season.”

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Some parts of the paddock are better suited to wet seasons, while other parts perform better in dryer seasons. - Photo: Kingara Farms
Some parts of the paddock are better suited to wet seasons, while other parts perform better in dryer seasons. - Photo: Kingara Farms

NDVI maps

The farm team uses NDVI maps through CSBP’s DecipherAg programme and Agworld to detect variations in the health of the crops. “They have a NDVI option, which we look at quite a bit during the year, as crops grow and mature. We can try and pinpoint results there if we have done something different. Double or triple the fertiliser rate or half it.”

It was surprising to see 75% of the paddock was germinating on so little moisture

Kingara Farms experienced a dry start of the season last year and staggered germinations. Looking back at the NDVI images, Tim noticed that a certain spot came up with minimal moisture. “We got it in nice and early when the soil temperature was still up. It was surprising to see 75% of the paddock was germinating on so little moisture.”

Looking back throughout the whole season on NDVI, Tim could see the areas that had germinated at sowing and those where the germinations were delayed until the opening rains in late May. This allowed him to evaluate the management of the cropping areas. It showed him what impact their deep ripping, summer weed control and early sowing had. And it provided information for future decisions.

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Tim Polkinghorne says the tops of the hills in their sandy soils are generally lighter and perform poorer. “We increase seeding and fertiliser rates on them, increasing cover and biomass to bring the overall yield of the paddock up.” - Photo: Kingara Farms
Tim Polkinghorne says the tops of the hills in their sandy soils are generally lighter and perform poorer. “We increase seeding and fertiliser rates on them, increasing cover and biomass to bring the overall yield of the paddock up.” - Photo: Kingara Farms

More uniformity in yield across the board

The farm also bought a new header in 2018 with a protein meter installed on it. “That was quite a good move for us”, Tim says. “We can use this for calculating our nitrogen rates as well. We haven’t done a lot with that mass of protein data yet, but this coming season I am anticipating to try a bit of variable rate nitrogen application across a couple of paddocks pre-season. We can then see what it takes to get an increase in protein in the low spots and get a bit more uniformity in yield across the board in those paddocks.”

One of the more profitable rotations of Kingara Farms is wheat-lentils-wheat-lentils. “But we don’t have one soil type across the farms, so our rotations vary quite a bit”, Tim explains. “We refine rotations to suit the soil type and to suit the geographical location. In certain areas, we follow up with a canola crop after lentils if there are weed issues, knowing the crop will have a good source of nitrogen throughout the season. If there’s a weed burden there or you’re looking for a second consecutive break on grasses, a canola crop provides a good profitable option and sets the paddock up well for wheat in the following year.”

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Tim Polkinghorne: “We refine rotations to suit the soil type and to suit the geographical location.” - Photo: Kingara Farms
Tim Polkinghorne: “We refine rotations to suit the soil type and to suit the geographical location.” - Photo: Kingara Farms

Considerable cost savings

Kingara Farms has moved away from applying most of its phosphorus as liquid P and went back to Monoammonium phosphate (MAP). Tim: “We are still using some liquid phosphorus down the tube at seeding. It really gives it a good head start and gets the crop away. But now we’re moving away from phosphoric acid to MAP and ammonium polyphosphate. Overall, there will be considerable cost savings in our programme because MAP is cheaper per unit of P. Although fertiliser prices are quite high at the moment, it will still be worthwhile.”

WEED-IT technology

Kingara Farms has recently ordered a self-propelled sprayer fitted with WEED-IT technology to further maximise efficiency. “We’re waiting for the delivery”, Tim points out. This RoGator is equipped with a system designed to minimise product waste, improve precision and make the farm’s operation more productive. “It also has WEED-IT technology on it”, Tim says. “We’re pretty keen to get it in the paddock and see what sort of economics it provides for our operation. Our research suggests that we are going to get some great savings out of it…”

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The farm had a good harvest recently. Tim: “We finished in good time. Prices were good and yields were good.” - Photo: Kingara Farms
The farm had a good harvest recently. Tim: “We finished in good time. Prices were good and yields were good.” - Photo: Kingara Farms
Groeneveld
René Groeneveld Correspondent for Australia
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