Technology and biology showing excellent results

Arthur Gray Correspondent South Africa
Technology and biology showing excellent results

Roland Meyer says he is definitely not a ‘future farmer’, describing himself as ‘an early adopter of proven technology’.

Roland farms at Lűneburg in KwaZulu-Natal on a total of 670 hectares. His own farm, Malanda Piggery, extends to 200ha and he leases another 470ha. 330 ha of this is arable of which 110ha is under irrigation. Roland’s philosophy is to use less iron and more biology through technology. His efforts to improve the soils on the farm are showing excellent results.

Summer crops are maize and soybean and winter forage cover crop species mix includes mainly oats, cereal rye under irrigation, peas vetch, tiller radish fodder rape and fodder beet. The forage crops are grazed and trampled by cattle shortly before spring planting.

Passionate about the soil

Roland is passionate about the soil and believes in preserving it and increasing its organic fertility. Cultivation only takes place when there is no other option; minimal soil disturbance is the primary objective. This extends even to the planter where a disc coulter is used for fertiliser placement in preference to a tine. A No-Till system is currently in operation but this is migrating towards coulter based Strip-Till with the intention of eventually placing all P & K fertiliser in the autumn, using a strip freshener to clear the biomass and planting without fertiliser in the spring. A yield monitor on the combine is used to create yield maps and Roland thinks that in the future he may use satellite imagery, when it becomes feasible to immediately implement corrections using a high clearance sprayer.

Planting at Lüneburg. Photo: Duncan Morphew

Planting at Lüneburg. Photo: Duncan Morphew

Improving soil fertility improved yields by 80%

In the past 8 years yields have been increased by 80% on the same lands by improving the soil fertility. The key to this is increasing the organic matter. By planting winter and summer crops, biomass both above and below the surface is increased and there is an explosion in the number of living organisms in the soil. The end result is a soil structure that is buffered against the extremes of weather we experience in Africa. Water penetrates more easily with virtually no run off and less drainage issues. In times of drought water retention throughout the soil profile is maintained, prolonging the availability of sufficient water. Also, nutrient availability is unlocked by the abundance of soil organisms. Fertility is further enhanced by the use of pig manure from the farm. Improvements are being made to the application of the pig slurry by incorporating it into the strip-till regime.

Row spacing

Maize yields under irrigation are currently 15 tons/ha and with changes to the Nitrogen application and row spacing this is being pushed towards 20 ton/ha. A recent switch to a Monasem planter for the summer crops has shown excellent results with faultless seed metering from the Monosem metering units and individual row Müller electric drives, which also provide variable rate seeding and individual row on/off. The hydraulic drive to the fertiliser application system also allows for variable rate application. Guidance systems, based on a Trimble RTX centre point have been in operation for a number of years and the current units provide real precision. The winter crops are spaced with the following summer crops in mind. 4 7½” winter crop rows match one 30” summer crop row. Winter crops are planted with a South African manufactured Piket No-Till drill. The same swath lines are used for both summer and winter crops. Winter crops are spaced in specific rows that compliment the following summer crops. For example, oats or cereal rye is not placed on or adjacent to the summer row but rather in between. This prevents too much biomass build-up on the planting row, which could hamper the accuracy of the seed placement depth but provides a thick mulch layer in between the rows. Winter plant species that decay more quickly, or with soft plant tissue, are placed adjacent to the summer rows.