Maintaining healthy soil and protecting crops is essential for increasing grower productivity and profitability. The vegetable industry’s Soil Wealth and Integrated Crop Protection (ICP) projects provide extension services and resources to assist this end. In this session at the Annual Vegetable Industry Seminar – moderated by Dr Gordon Rogers (CEO, Applied Horticultural Research) and Carl Larsen (Associate and Consultant Scientist, RM Consulting Group) – four growers discuss insights from participating in ICP projects.

Ed Fagan, Director, Mulyan Farms

When Ed stumbled upon strip tillage, he had no idea it would become part of the soil rebuilding approach on his family farm.

In his mind, low-till strategies they were using for broadacre farming didn’t suit horticulture. His “lightbulb moment” came when they were flood-irrigating a corn crop, but plants were wilting and the bed felt like concrete.

“The yield on that paddock was slowly declining. We had to do something. We had soil improving on one part of the farm and the other part was getting smashed,” said Ed.

They started composting and cover cropping, using control areas for comparison.

Of one trial with cucumbers, Ed says: “When it came time for harvest, the results were so stark I was worried people wouldn’t believe it.”

They have since experimented with different cover cropping programs and reduced composting somewhat, which wouldn’t have been possible without the strip-till machine.

As with all approaches, they still face challenges, including setting back their work during beetroot harvest.

L-R: Carl Larsen, Andrew Johanson, Adam Schreurs, Ed Fagan, Mark Kable, Gordon Rogers.

Andrew Johanson, Director, Mulgowie Farming Company

Andrew noted three basic principles can improve soil health: leaving roots in, maximising cover, and minimising disturbance.

For Mulgowie, which has properties throughout Australia, the challenge lay in applying these at sites with diverse soils and climates.

“It was a task to get each site onboard,” he said. One manager was converted while visiting a demonstration site using cover crops. “It was cheese and chalk – the water infiltration, the holding capacity.”

He explained they now widely use low-till strategies.

“We used to rip twice, especially in heavy black soils to bring water up, let it dry out, and then smash it down,” he said.

“You’re doing nothing but burning diesel and tractor hours with this system. The less we till, the more the microbiology and carbon builds up.

“We’re using less fertiliser. Our fuel use in the tractors is down 43 per cent. That’s quite a few dollars.”


Mark Kable, Director, Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon has farms in Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland. Mark said strip-tilling works well on the undulating land of Tasmania’s northwest coast, but controlled traffic farming is difficult.

“It’s all about the gear. When you’re pulling six metres of dirt and trying to work around it, it becomes very challenging. We’re still working on that,” he said.

In contrast, controlled traffic farming on their river flats is “working a treat”.

Mark added erosion is a big issue, so “we use cover crops to stop soil ending up in the rivers and creeks”.

They have been growing these consistently for over ten years and have noticed significant increases in organic matter. This has enabled them to reduce fertiliser inputs, thereby saving money.


Adam Schreurs, Director, Schreurs and Sons

Adam’s family has been farming their property for about 70 years and “with market pressures and turning over cash crops, the soil was degrading,” he said.

“Basically, there was no organic matter in the soil. That’s where I got interested in how cover cropping could improve our soils.”

An opportunity to host a demonstration site was Adam’s chance to “see what we could do and measure some differences.”

They started experimenting with cover crops on one property and discovered benefits for disease management as well as soil health. This progressed across the farm, until “[Carl Larsen, RMCG] came back and asked, ‘where’s the control gone?’ I told him things were going so well and the yield was improving, so the control went out the window.”

Adam noted their system isn’t perfect, with snails an issue. However, they have reduced pesticide usage.

Winter crops are typically unsprayed and summer ones receive two or three sprays for specific insects.


Find out more

The AVIS videos are available on the AUSVEG Youtube channel.

The Annual Vegetable Industry Seminar is a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.

This project has been funded by Hort Innovation using the vegetable research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.

Project Number: VG21003