At BASF, we want to contribute to a world that provides a viable future with an enhanced quality of life for everyone. We consider no initiative too small for encouraging sustainable farming practices, and at our CropSolutions farm in Tamworth, NSW, the research team is proving that indeed, from little things, big things grow. The mission is to trial new crop protection products developed by the global experts at BASF. This includes working with new herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, and biological control solutions, thus gaining a greater understanding of cost effective, yet sustainable, farming practices. The research conducted uses global knowledge, fine-tuned in Australia, and aims to provide Aussie farmers with the tools needed to encourage larger and better-quality yields, whilst using fewer resources.
With the challenges presented by Australia’s changing climate, it is important to the team that they maximise water use efficiency across all operations of the farm, ensuring they offset the effects that rising temperatures and rainfall deficits will have on the crops. They undertake several initiatives, one of which is cover cropping. In order to capture rainfall, reduce evaporation, increase soil microbial activity, and increase organic matter within the soil, varieties of mixed species cover crops are planted between trial crops.
“The cover crop phase serves a number of purposes. Bare paddocks are prone to higher evaporation and reduced soil microbial activity due to a reduction in moisture and available food for the microbes. We’re not putting the system on pause, we are instead keeping it actively going,” explained Russell Ison, Field Biologist & CropSolutions Farm Manager at BASF ANZ.
Rather than leaving the area bare in between trials, cover cropping ensures constant microbial activity within the soil, which promotes carbon sequestration and increases rainfall infiltration to avoid erosion through reduced run-off. This season the cover crops planted are a mixture of cereals, brassicas, and legumes to improve soil tilth and cycle nutrients. The cover crops also include flowering plants, selected to help attract and harbor the two bee populations that settle in the northern and southern boundaries of the farm.
Maintaining biodiversity is important to the team as it directly supports sustainable agriculture systems by promoting soil fertility, pollination, and Integrated Pest Management. To support the biodiversity of the area, they follow protocols to minimise disturbance to the bee populations. Part of BASF’s strategy is to develop products that have low toxicology ratings, and therefore present no impact to residing species, which is why the team also records any effects on beneficial insects.
Additionally, the team promotes biodiversity through the riparian zone. The zone runs through the farm connecting a corridor of trees along the main road to another by the river, therefore acting as a buffer zone and habitat for native animals. Within this area, native species grow freely, as the team elect not to use pesticides in this area, encouraging natural growth.
Within the zone the team manages weeds mechanically, whilst native plants are free to grow naturally. When required, timely slashing methods are used to maintain native plants in the area. Slashing encourages growth within the zone and adds biomass to the soil, which increases soil organic matter, carbon content, and habitat availability for lizards and small mammals.
The team has devised a system for the disposal of chemicals released via the washing of machinery at Tamworth. The system aims to minimise and remove waste in an environmentally friendly manner. Any collected residue from the mixing and washing of equipment gets passed through an oil separator, which removes any oil-based products. The water then enters their anaerobic septic system, where any excess gets sprayed out onto a small dedicated area of the farm. Microbial activity then works to naturally breakdown the excess. They have also achieved a reduction in waste through the team’s composting initiative. The initiative involves recycling excess potting mix from the glasshouse trials and composting the soil with food scraps, which then creates natural fertiliser for the riparian zone.
The future development of sustainable farming practices is very exciting, and it thrills the team motivating Russell and Georgia at Tamworth to play their part. “We have the opportunity to contribute as we are a research farm, and we’re very mindful of the fact that we can provide examples not only for other farmers, but for BASF”, said Russell. We look forward to following the team’s journey towards a more sustainable agriculture sector, and their future contributions to the industry.