Successful drought project leads to new policy on-farm

Posted by Dianne Bisdee on 22 February 2016

A unique drought support initiative offered to North Canterbury farmers last spring has changed the way one of them manages his land, for good.

Before being nominated for Project North Canterbury, Scott McFadden had never used a direct drill on The Acheron, an 800 ha dryland hill country property where he runs sheep and beef.

Now having seen the results, he’s a no-till convert, and has booked the local contractor Murray Stackhouse to come back and sow more.

Scott was one of 10 farmers affected by North Canterbury’s unprecedented drought who were provided free advice, soil testing, fertiliser, seed and drilling to renovate 5 ha with new pasture or crop so they could grow some much needed feed last spring.

The mix of brassica and Italian ryegrass seed sown on some of his flatter, clay-based country as a result grew so well he’s decided no-till is the way to go in future.

“The crop looked so much better. Using the direct drill meant we were able to retain moisture in the soil, as well as protecting soil structure and maintaining the carbon balance. There are so many pluses for healthy soil with this method.

“In a typical year here you can get away with turning paddocks over for sowing, but in extreme drought conditions a direct drill works perfectly. There’s less soil disturbance, and you keep as much moisture in the soil as possible. 

Previously Scott has used a bulldozer with offset discs to work up paddocks for sowing, particularly on his steeper hill country.

Situated on the banks of the Hurunui River, between Greta Valley and Cheviot, The Acheron is 1 per cent flat, with the rest comprising medium to steep hill. Pre drought it carried approximately 5000 stock units, mostly sheep.

Scott says direct drilling is only one of the changes caused by the drought which will end up benefiting the farm.

Like the other farmers nominated for Project North Canterbury, he says he was extremely grateful for the opportunity to be involved. “Even though it was a relatively small area of land for each farm, it provided a big psychological boost.”

Those behind the initiative included no till machinery specialists Duncan Ag, with Soil Matters providing soil testing and recommendations; Viafos the fertiliser and Specialty Seeds the pasture and crop seed. 

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