Studying biological farming

By Country News on January 20, 2016
  • Studying biological farming

    John Keely is including a manure expo on his overseas tour

  • Studying biological farming

    A more biological approach on his farm has seen improvements in yield and plant health.

John Keely is looking forward to spending a large part of 2016 researching, studying and looking at ways effluent from his 330 cow herd can be re-used on farm, as part of his 2016 Nuffield Scholarship.

Mr Keely has been dairying at Cohuna for more than 30 years and for the past 10, he has been mucking around with biological farming and composting manure and a bit of green waste.

“It has always been a bit of a half hearted attempt from us. There is a lot of time and effort required to get compost right and we don’t have the proper equipment – the finished product is not as good as it probably could be,” Mr Keely said.

“I am very interested in improving my soil and I don’t want to rely on bought-in fertiliser to maintain soil health.

“I was asked a few years ago to apply for a scholarship but I didn’t really have the time or a topic - now my son Harrison is home on the farm the timing feels right.”

As part of the scholarship Mr Keely will spend eight weeks on a personal study tour visiting six countries.

“I am really looking forward to visiting the Netherlands,” he said.

“They farm below sea level and they are really good at what they do.

“I am also looking forward to the manure expo in the USA and visiting some farmers around Minnesota and Wisconsin who are doing great things with biological farming.

“I am particularly interested in increasing the biological methods we use here at home.”

For the past seven years the business has been using humates, humuric acids and foliar spray on pastures.

A biological blend has been used on summer corn crops and Mr Keely has noticed an improvement in both yields and plant health.

The Keely family run their dairy operation across 400ha.

They are pretty well self-sufficient for feed.

This year they have cropped 57ha of vetch and 57ha of pasture for silage and cut another 18ha of hay.

There will be no summer pasture sown and the area of corn will be reduced from 25ha to around 12ha because the rising cost of water makes growing these crops uneconomical and water will be needed to irrigate the annuals once autumn comes around.

This season the cows will be fed twice a day on the feed pad - until around mid April, so there will be additional stockpiles of manure that can be used for composting next year.

Soil test are used to find out what nutrients are available in the soil and then bio-ag fertilisers like rock phos, lime and pasture premo blends have been applied

“We are continually changing our management and there is no end point really,” Mr Keely said.

“I wouldn’t consider going organic but I do think is a place for everything in farming.

“You are never to old to learn and the day you stop learning you are probably going down in a box.”

By Country News on January 20, 2016

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