A WILLOWVALE farmer has proved there are exceptions to the old saying "the more you put in, the more you get out" through a successful zero till farming operation.
Rod McLennan and his wife Vanessa run a 450ha dairy and farming property in the Glengallan Valley.
From a farming perspective, their focus is straight forward: To have feed in front of their 200-head-plus milking herd for 365 days of the year.
So 325ha of the property is dedicated to feed production, with 25ha benefiting from the advantages of irrigation.
For most of his life Mr McLennan has farmed traditionally, ploughing the country ahead of planting but in 2010, with most of his conventional machinery "practically worn out", he decided to look at his options.
"What we used to do was spray early in the fallow, let the country soften up and the cracks close and then plough it," he explained.
"But often we'd be looking for rain before ploughing and you'd get a series of rain events or one big heap of rain and using a conventional machine to plant in those conditions is pretty hopeless."
So the couple investigated the options and decided to invest in a Brazilian-made Semeato zero till planter.
"We wanted to plant pasture and forage crops with a narrow row spacing," Mr McLennan said.
"The Semeato weighs six tonne. We wanted something with a strong frame and we needed to be able to control planting depth."
After the January floods earlier this year, the McLennans gave the machine what was possibly its most significant test to date.
"We needed to replant lucerne after the floods came down Glengallan Creek earlier this year so we sprayed our paddocks - they were covered in canola, burr and a thick layer of trash," he said.
"Then we planted straight into it and the machine hand
led it no worries, even though we found a few fences buried under the trash, which was interesting.
"But the oats came up well."
He said using a zero till approach had translated to significant labour saving with paddocks able to be direct drilled as opposed to ploughed before planting.
The change in tactic has also widened the McLennans' planting window on their black soil cultivation.
"We are able to plant on limited moisture as long as there is enough trash or stubble cover and the cracks are closed," he said.
"We are also very conscious of compaction from cattle grazing on the black soil and we shift them off the cultivation if we have more than 15mm of rain.
"So zero till has worked for us.
"But I know you can't throw a plough away forever.
"If the cracks in the black soil close, but you haven't got a full profile of moisture or ground cover, you will get run-off when it rains, so you may need to plough to open the ground up."
The progressive Glengallan farmer hasn't limited his use of zero till planting to his cultivation either; he also tried his hand at pasture-cropping.
"We planted barley in our grass paddock, which we had sprayed with 600mm of Roundup per hectare, just to set the grass back without killing it.
"We then planted directly into the blue grass with the aim of having barley through it for a winter crop.
"Unfortunately, we had plans to top dress it but didn't get to it however the barley came up so while it wasn't much of a crop, it definitely worked."
While zero till planting has worked sweetly on his heavier soil, Mr McLennan also found he can plant his sandy, red soil with limited moisture.
"Red soil normally has to be ploughed wet but I planted it when it was getting dry. There was dust flying everywhere but it worked well."
For this dairyfarmer, the focus is firmly on growing year- round feed for his dairy herd.
"We are out to grow grazing crops 365 days of the year, so we are constantly chasing grazing yields all the time," he said.
"So a combination of crops and pastures allows us to have something happening all year.
"We have found zero till allows us to manage cultivation through irregular rainfall."