Trangie farmer Richie Quigley will look at how growers can improve infiltration rates and stored soil moisture through maintaining crop residues as cover, under his cotton-supported 2020 Nuffield Scholarship which was announced last week.
With his family, Richie manages their mixed farming operation in the Macquarie Valley in Central West NSW, which includes irrigated and dryland cotton, along with grains, canola and chickpeas and a grazing operation focused on breeding and finishing sheep and cattle.
“Farming in marginal cropping areas, we usually find moisture to be our most limiting factor,” Richie said.
“If we can utilise techniques involving ground cover that help us preserve more moisture, it could produce a range of benefits, including increased productivity, soil health, yields and reduced weed pressures.
“This extended dry period has reinforced how important ground cover is to us.
“Cover is so important for rainfall infiltration and protection from wind erosion, particularly on lighter soil types.
“Anywhere without ground cover has or will cause a missed opportunity at some point, and it’s hard to grow back to replace cover when it’s this dry. If you are forced to plant to regain cover it another expense.”
Richie said in zero tillage farming systems they seem to only store 20 to 50 per cent of their fallow moisture, depending on when the rainfall occurs in the fallow period.
“If we could increase that even by 10 per cent that will make a big difference to our farming systems,” he said.
Richie sees better managing crop residue as a major option in achieving this.
“The outcomes of the research could provide increased planting opportunities within, and outside, traditional planting windows, opening up potential to grow different crop types in marginal environments, including increasing the viability of rain-grown and semi-irrigated cotton production.”
Richie plans to visit well-established cotton and grain production areas like Brazil, United States, Canada, and England, where growers are using a range of methods and technologies that may be applicable in Australia.
“On my travels I want to see and learn about the farming system involved with retaining more cover,” he says.
“I believe there are benefits from this style of farming that will suit the dry Australian climate.
“I also want to see how people are handling large quantities of crop residue material and investigate any issues and benefits arising from that. I am also hoping to see harvesters set up for stripper fronts to maximise capacity and minimise loss.
“I am also looking to see how this system will benefit rain grown, semi irrigated and fully irrigated cotton production, and how it could be applicable in Australia.”
The cotton industry Nuffield Scholarships are supported by CRDC and Cotton Australia.
“It’s an honour to be a part of the program and I’m very excited to be a part of it,” Richie said.
“I’m also pleased to be able to go through with a fellow cotton grower from the Macquarie, Billy Browning; we are hoping to do a fair bit of travel together.”
Billy's scholarship is supported by the Australian Department of Agriculture and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. He will investigate the value adding of irrigation water and increased utilisation of low-flow water. Richie follows in the footsteps of his brother Tom, who was a CRDC and Cotton Australia supported Nuffield scholar in 2015.