BioAg Case Study No 16: Alan and Ruth Wragge, “Yaloke”, Deniliquin, NSW

“Within 48 hours the plants started to recover and the tips of the leaves changed from yellow back to light green,” Alan said. “After seven days they were almost back to normal and after 14 days, following another treatment, they looked absolutely brilliant.

“That canola, which had been given a death sentence, yielded 2.5 tonnes/ha and netted us $40,000. That won me over towards biological farming and at the same time convinced me that there was a lot I didn’t know.”

Alan has since implemented a custom-made BioAg “fertility program” across more than a third of his property. The program incorporates a range of BioAg products, all of which are accredited organic inputs, in conjunction with conventional inputs.

To date, more than 1,200 hectares have been treated at least once with 100 kg/ha of BioAgPhos® and 200 kg/ha of lime using a belt spreader.

About half of its 15% phosphorus content is available immediately for plant use, while the remainder is slowly digested by the micro-organisms and added to the nutrient reservoir in the soil.

The improved soil microbial activity also unlocks phosphate, calcium and sulphur already in the soil, leading to long-term benefits in soil structure and fertility. The program also includes sulphate of ammonia and the soil biology nutrient and seed inoculant, BioAg Soil & Seed®.
Alan described the results as “amazing”, with better crop germination, fewer pest and weed problems, little lodging, less pinched grain and noticeable improvements in the soil’s structure, water holding capacity and workability.

“I can make a good seedbed in one pass, have fewer disease problems and less run-off after rain,” he said. “Two years ago, we had 100 mm of rain in three days. The water ran off our conventionally- farmed country almost straight away, whereas the biologically-farmed country just soaked it up.

“The soil is much softer so I can direct-drill a lot more. I’ve also had fewer weeds so I’ve been able to cut back on weed spraying over the past four or five years. With biological farming there’s not as much vegetative growth in the crops.

“The funny thing is that the best crops don’t look like anything special but they’re much easier to harvest and they yield well. I’ve stripped 2 t/ha off cereal crops that didn’t look like they’d be worth harvesting and easily harvested a 12 t/ha rice crop with my 25-year-old header!”

The quality of Alan’s rice had also improved. “Our appraisals are going up and up each year, with more whole grain mill-out and fewer brown or green grains, so we’re making more money,” he said.

His Merinos are healthier, with few worm problems despite not having drenched for 18 months. Despite the drought, there has been little tender wool, which Alan attributes to a change from set stocking to a rotational grazing program on lucerne, subclover and vetch pastures over winter and the year-round nutrition from 160 ha of saltbush.

Other changes to his management system include the adoption of green manure crops, the introduction of raised bed cropping to use irrigation water more efficiently and fencing off nearly 400 ha to allow native vegetation to regenerate.

Alan said his biological approach cost a bit more than conventional farming techniques and required more management skills, but the benefits were well worthwhile.

“The last few years have been tough but the benefits in our soil, stock health and crops have made it profitable,” he said. “I really think that biological farming is the way to go.

“I’ve changed my direction in so many ways that I’m now really confident and can see a tremendous future in farming using this approach. It has shown me the way to move from conventional to organic production and I am now undertaking the first stage of certification as an organic grower.”

Alan has also won over his harshest critic – his father. “Dad said I was crazy and on the wrong track but I took him out into a wheat paddock that had been biologically-farmed for three years,” he said.

“I dug up a shovelful of soil and it was beautiful and soft and full of earthworms and fungal growth. Dad changed his mind on the spot.”