The most common question ringing in the heads of those that have just completed NTS training is, “where do I start?” There is no longer a question about the need to start, or the likely benefits of beginning a new chapter in your farming story. Whether you have just experienced eight hours or 38 hours of an ocean of information, there is no doubt about the rationale and rewards. However, there is typically a 10% retention rate of this huge body of information and this partial retention can create confusion. Confusion can, in turn, create indecision, and the classic response of the undecided is to do nothing.
In this article, I will provide a game plan to help overcome indecision and to provide guidelines to ensure successful adoption of Nutrition Farming® strategies. In this two-part feature I will differentiate between programs for broadacre farming and more intensive horticulture. This edition we will focus on low-budget broadacre options.
A broadacre beginning
Broadacre farming is called “cash cropping” in countries outside Australia. This may be related to the fact that, in our uncertain climate, in the final analysis, there is often very little cash involved. It is this uncertainty that limits the fertilising budget and this is why NTS has specialised in delivering the biggest response for the lowest investment. Here, I will share a strategy where the base program costs less than $20 AUD per hectare. It is always important to have a good soil test to allow more precision in your limited nutrition program. The aim becomes to provide a little root zone nutrition and/or to deliver precisely what is required through foliar fertilising. There is also a focus upon reintroducing or promoting soil biology, as these creatures are an integral part of the equation.
Kickstarting the seed with nutrition
Seed treatment is an “essential” in low-budget agriculture, simply because you get so much return for a small investment. A package of key minerals, plant growth and soil life promoters, wrapped around the seed at planting, can fire up the young plant more cost-effectively than any other input. In fact, you can give that young plant a healthy push along for less than $2 AUD per hectare. Seed-Start™ from NTS, for example, is applied to wheat seed at 5 litres per tonne of seed. A tonne typically covers 20 hectares and 5 litres costs around $40 AUD (hence the $2 cost). Growers coat the seed by combining it with Seed-Start™ in a concrete mixer, or they might mix it with equal amounts of water and spray the seed as it goes into the seeder. Seed energisers like chelated manganese and micronised lime are combined with other commonly deficient trace minerals like copper and zinc in this formulation. Then, proven seed starters like humates, kelp and amino acids are combined with other microbe-feeding treasures to complete the Seed-Start™ recipe. When farmers trial Seed-Start™ and discover the benefits, it rapidly becomes part of their ongoing program.
Kickstarting the seed with biology
Step number two in our budget strategy involves gifting the seed with a lifetime partner. This super productive partnership struggles in nine out of every ten soils, because one member of this duo is simply no longer present. Most crop plants love to have a mycorrhizal relationship, but 90% of these wonderful fungi are missing-in-action in our chemically compromised soils. Mycorrhizal fungi burrow into the plant root and then begin to provide a host of benefits to the plant, in return for an ongoing food source. These creatures deliver and retain nutrients in the root zone and they mine immobile minerals like phosphate and zinc. They provide the plant with a massive root extension of fine filaments that effectively increases root surface area ten-fold (1000%).Your crop will never suffer from dreaded root knot nematodes when the roots are colonised by mycorrhizal fungi. These creatures are also the most effective humus-building dynamos of all the cellulose-digesting fungi. In fact, 30% of all humus in our soils is created by this one remarkable species.
Platform®, from NTS, is a new kind of mycorrhizal inoculum. These kinds of inputs are typically very expensive because they cannot simply be “brewed” to expand their numbers and impact, like many inoculums. The spores and propagules (tiny pieces of viable hyphae) must be hand harvested from the roots of living plants and this dramatically increases the cost of production. These mycorrhizal “seeds” are then applied as a seed dressing, or directly to the roots via fertigation or boom spray. Platform® was developed by a Professor who has worked with Mycorrhizal fungi for most of her career. She has developed a new plant medium upon which they can be grown, as well as a more cost-effective harvesting technique. The end result of this innovation is a product with very high spore and propagule counts (over 400 000 per kg), which can be productively used in broadacre farming for as little $6 AUD per hectare. This small investment provides over 20,000 spores and propagules, which is not enough to cover the number of wheat plants in a hectare. However, it is enough to deliver a significant yield response and the organisms can spread and expand their influence throughout the season. Platform® is also unique in that, along with the key strains of mycorrhizal fungi, it also contains several strains of Trichoderma. Trichoderma is a multi-tasking species that magnifies fertiliser response, releases locked-up phosphorus and builds humus.
Magnifying fertilisers for free with humates
The third step to boost production, biologically, involves the simple inclusion of humates with your standard fertilisers. This step can be essentially free-of-charge because you can safely reduce your fertiliser rates to cover the cost of the Soluble Humate Granules™. “How can this work?”, I hear you thinking. NTS Soluble Humate Granules™ are a super concentrated form of humic acid. The capacity of humic acid to boost nutrient uptake has been well researched. Humic acid increases cell membrane permeability in a phenomenon called cell sensitisation. Your crop can effectively take up your fertilisers 30% more efficiently, which is why you can safely reduce your fertiliser rates a little to accommodate the cost of the humate inclusion. The proven rate is 5 kg of Soluble Humate Granules™ per hectare. This inclusion costs around $12 AUD per hectare. Your humic acid inclusion offers much more than mineral magnification. Leachable minerals are stabilised to reduce their loss when using humates, soil life is dramatically stimulated, soil structure in the root zone is positively impacted and moisture management is enhanced (humic acid holds several times its own weight in water). This is a great package for something that costs nothing to include.
Well-chosen foliars can really fly
Our broadacre program to date has cost just $20 AUD per hectare. When we get off to a good start, and if the moisture levels look promising, there can be considerable gains in applying a well formulated foliar spray at two critical times during the crop cycle. This might cost a further $25 AUD in total. What exactly is “a well-chosen foliar”, I sense you thinking. Well, let us assume that your soil test revealed low zinc, copper and boron and marginal nitrogen. Here is how we would formulate a super effective foliar strategy:
1) At the five leaf stage, create your own foliar spray using the following components per hectare. In 100 litres of water combine 1 kg of zinc sulfate with 500 grams of copper sulfate, 5 kg of urea, 100 grams of NTS Fulvic Acid Powder™, 100 grams of Tri-Kelp™ and 30 mL of triacontanol (Nutri-Stim Triacontanol™). This blend should be dissolved with agitation and applied with a boom spray. The total cost of this first foliar is around $12 AUD per hectare.
2) Just before flowering, combine 1 kg of Solubor with 1 kg of NTS Soluble Humate Granules™ and 10 kg of urea. Include 100 grams of Tri-Kelp™ and 30 mL of Nutri-Stim Triacontanol™. Blend together with 100 litres of water, ensuring that all ingredients are fully dissolved, and apply this amount per hectare. This should cost approximately $15 AUD per hectare.
Your likely achievements for this program
This is a super productive, highly affordable program that will introduce you to the benefits of Nutrition Farming®. You have kick-started your young crop and provided the plants with a remarkable, nutrient-foraging root extension. You have gained the biggest possible response from your starter fertilisers while stimulating beneficial soil life and improving moisture retention. You have also delivered the plant exactly what it needed at the most critical times during the season. I strongly suggest that you trial this type of program and you will rapidly become a Nutrition Farming® convert. Let me know how you go and we can share it with other Nutrition Matters readers.
To read Part 2 of this article, please click here.