Sustainable Crop Production

Approaches to livestock sustainability have been touched upon in other parts of the sustainability hub — see Regenerative AgricultureOrganic Production etc.

However, there are additional efforts being made in relation to cropping in Australia, that do not represent as great a shift away from conventional agriculture, but are still hugely important to the increasing sustainability of our industry.

Approaches to SusTAINAble Crop ProdUCTION

Techniques include (but are not limited to):

  • Crop rotation

"In every season we have evaluated the productivity of a range of break options like canola, lupins, peas, rye and we’ve also looked at the effect of those breaks on subsequent wheat crops and we’ve looked at the effects on the subsequent wheat crops not just from a the perspective of yield and economics, we’ve also considered what some of the chemical and biological factors might be that causing this break effect where we get up to one ton extra weight yield in a season after a break.

We did see a second year break effect so two years after the break we were seeing around 10% wheat yield benefits. I think we will need be quite strategic about when we use those breaks rather than having a fixed rotation, we need to think about the best Agronomy for those break crops and the best season types for those break crops and fit them in when the opportunity arises because we know of these benefits that we have associated with them." AgEx

  • Mixed Farming

"Soil organic matter is the main long-term sustainability concern for which the only practical solution is to include forages in the land use mix. Results from the SATWAGL long-term-experiment (Chan et al. 2011; Table 1) confirm that pasture-crop rotations can rebuild soil carbon but crop-only rotations will not, even when combining no-till, stubble retention and high frequencies of grain legumes." GRDC

  • No Tillage and Zero Tillage

"Minimum tillage cropping is a conservation farming system, which may encompass reduced tillage, direct drilling and zero tillage. It minimises soil disturbance and retains crop residues when sowing, offering many benefits to farmers and their soils." VTNFA

"No-till cropping is not a new technology, but for large parts of the Australian cropping landscape the uptake of no-till farming systems is a relatively recent and on-going process. Extensive use has also so far been sustained across a wide range of regions. The no-till ‘revolution’ across diverse Australian cropping landscapes has been highly successful but is not yet complete." GRDC

Access GRDC's Adoption of no-till cropping practices in Australia's grain growing regions.

  • Stubble retention

"As one of the three pillars of conservation farming, Stubble Management is one of the key ingredients in maintaining healthy soils. Stubble plays two very important roles. The first one is actually physically protecting the soil surface from erosion, whether that be wind erosion, or rain erosion, Australia has had more than it’s fair share of erosion over the years, and we don’t have a lot of great soil so we’ve got to protect what we can.

The other role that it plays, which is very significant, is actually the food source for the microorganisms that live in the soil. So, rather than burning it, by leaving it in the field, the energy that was captured from the sun that is now in that plant material can be made available to the soil micro organisms." AgEx

  • Improving water use efficiency

"Water use efficiency (WUE) is the measure of a cropping system’s capacity to convert water into plant biomass or grain. It includes both the use of water stored in the soil and rainfall during the growing season. Fallow management, including the sequencing of fallows and crops, offers the greatest opportunity to improve water availability to plants and increase water use efficiency in the northern region." GRDC

  • Controlled Traffic Farming

"The foundation of CTF is the use of compacted, permanent wheel tracks to support all load bearing machinery wheels.  The aim is to minimise the area of permanent wheel tracks.  Some machinery configurations in some industries can achieve a wheel track area as low as 10%.  The remainder of the soil never carries a load bearing wheel, and so stays in the best possible condition for maximum crop performance.  In simple terms, “Plants grow better in soft soil, while wheels work better on roads”. ACTFA  

"Controlled traffic farming (CTF) is a system that delivers unparalleled improvements in productivity and sustainability. Farmers who are pushing the envelope of what CTF makes possible are unquestionably leading the pack in the development of profitable and sustainable cropping enterprises." ACTFA  

  • Precision agriculture

"Precision Agriculture (PA) can help in managing crop production inputs in an environmentally friendly way. By using site-specific knowledge, PA can target rates of fertilizer, seed and chemicals for soil and other conditions. PA substitutes information and knowledge for physical inputs.R. BongiovanniJ. Lowenberg-Deboer