A NARRANDERA grower has turned his harvest prospects around and retrieved up to 2.5 tonnes a hectare from his barley crop thanks largely to a water saving organic fertiliser.
Nathan Heckendorf, Top Reeds, Sandigo, was very skeptical when he heard about a product that could hold twice its weight in water and eliminate loss of water to a crop from evaporation or frosts.
Operating a 1600 hectare property, Mr Heckendorf planted 150ha of canola from April 20, 200ha of barley from May 10 and 1000ha of wheat from May 15, along with a summer crop of 70ha of maize.
He later decided to trial varying rates of the WaterSafe Australia's diatomite product on a trial area of 200ha of wheat, barley and canola, and has seen what he hails as "amazing results".
The property had 140 millimetres of rain since January, with Mr Heckendorf only irrigating 70ha of canola with 37mm of water.
"When someone tells me a fertiliser holds water and can sustain plants through a dry spring, I thought well that sounds like stump oil to me," he said.
"My main reason (for using it) was at the start of the year how often do we get a normal autumn and winter and then a dry spring. I thought if it can carry me through the spring, that's where it will prove itself, but we had 38mm of rain in April and haven't had more than 10 or 12 millimetres since."
Mr Heckendorf began harvesting his barley last week and was yielding 2.5t/ha at an F1 grade, while the untreated barley was only yielding 1.3t/ha at an F3 grade.
His canola was estimated at 2.2t/ha while the untreated area was basically dead.
At an application rate of 150kg/ha, the fertiliser cost about $90/ha for a twice yearly spreading.
It was a worthy investment for Mr Heckendorf.
"We didn't have a big frost year, but I'm just blown away," he said.
"For an upfront cost of say $90, if I'm going to gain even 2t/ha, that is another $500-$550/ha, so you would say I've got a net return off the product of $400/ha after cost. That in itself tells me I'm going to keep using it."
Diatomite is a naturally occurring fossilised remains of single-celled aquatic algae and is focused on water retention and plant structural strength.
Mr Heckendorf also trialled the product at different application times.
Some areas he broadcast the product and then incorporated it by sowing, while another plot was broadcast at the five leaf stage of the canola growth.
He noticed the earlier application produced better results.
"(The later application) is only estimated to do 3/4 to 1t/ha," he said.
"What I've discovered now is you want to put it out early, don't do it in crop, put it in before the crop to utilise all your moisture."
Overall, he struggled to find a fault with the product, which had also claimed to thicken cell walls which increased heat stress and frost tolerance.
"I've been led to believe that as it takes in moisture it takes in nutrients as well, so on your sandy soils, even in wet years when you have a lot of leeching going on, it will take in your nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and slowly release back to the plant," he said.
"So it stops your nutrient from being washed into the subsoil where they are unavailable to the plant.
"It protects against disease, against sucking and chewing pests. It's really good in saline soils. It will draw up salts and stop salts being available to plants so if you have salty soils you apply that and plants have a chance to grow."
Mr Heckendorf concluded that all of his farming land would now be treated, as this year was the driest on record and what he saw gave him confidence in the product's potential.