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Tom, Noleen and Bevan Arthur - Ida Valley, Central Otago

Tom, Noleen and Bevan Arthur - Ida Valley, Central Otago The stuff sells itself"

The Tom and Noeleen Arthur's 485 hectare farm sits in on the flats of the Ida Valley basin in Central Otago. Approximately 200 hectares is irrigated and they run 2800 crossbred breeding ewes and around 50 cattle. The farm operates on a tight budget in order keep it viable and a pricey fertiliser regime just isn't possible.

Tom and his son Bevan - a machine guru with old, new and self-made implements in the shed - have toyed with a number of fertiliser companies over the years and until recently were yet to see any real results.

Tom laughs about his first impression of Superior field consultant Anthony Mclean. "I thought he wasn't much of a salesman," he says, "He didn't sell us much fertiliser! But he knew that we were going to see results from the trial and the stuff would sell itself!"

The Arthurs' trial involved an experiment analysing three very similar eight hectare dryland paddocks all in close proximity. Firstly, a control paddock with no recent fertiliser history. Then a Superior paddock where the soil was tested in the United States' Perry Laboratory giving an in-depth analysis of the soil. They applied just a half-dose of custom-mixed fertiliser with the recommended base saturations of lime and sulphur, and other trace elements the paddock required. And finally, a straight lime and sulphur paddock applied at the same rate as the Superior paddock.

"Basically both paddocks had exactly same rate of lime and sulphur, but the Superior paddock also received the recommended trace elements. We wanted to see if those trace elements were actually going to show any difference," Bevan says.

Tom says: "After 18 months it was very obvious the Superior paddock had a lot more clover cover than the other two and that paddock held on a lot longer in the dry. The ground also felt spongier under foot and manure was breaking down faster."

Bevan adds: "You could also see the stock preferred the Superior paddock as we grazed the two fertilised paddocks together with the gate open and 80 per cent of the stock consistently grazed on the Superior side."

A Visual Soil Assessment [VSA) was further proof the Superior paddock was healthier than the other two. Anthony and Bevan conducted a VSA in each paddock; five worms were counted
in the control paddock's sample; 15 worms in the lime and sulphur paddock; and 38 worms in the Superior paddock.

"The Superior paddock has gone from being one of our poorer grazing blocks to one of our best." Bevan says.

Tom says: "Yes the Superior paddock cost more than the lime and sulphur paddock, but if you consider the flow-on effects - more clover, better pasture, quicker finishing lambs - the benefits will lead to a better bottom line over-all."

Another half-dose application is due to be applied on the Arthurs' property and Tom concedes he may be willing to open his cheque book a little more - albeit within a strict budget - now he has seen results: "If the fertiliser works, it will pay for itself", he says.

Tom's wife Noeleen chips in here: "And I can tell you, if Tom doesn't see value in something it doesn't get a look in!"

Q & A

Q: What is your main aim when it comes to farming?
A:. TOM: To run a sustainable farming business within a tight operating budget and to capitalise on surplus by drought-proofing our farm with more irrigation.

Q: What is the fertiliser history on your farm?
A:. TOl\ll: We have worked with the usual big New Zealand fertiliser outfits with a $150/ha annually. We were yet to see any convincing results that our regime was doing its job.

Q: How did you come to work with Superior?
A:. TOM: Anthony (Superior field consultant) introduced himself to us and offered to do a couple of soil tests. We thought we might as well see what it was all about.

Q: Explain the trial you conducted.
A:. BEVAN: We looked at three very similar eight hectare dry land paddocks all in close proximity. Firstly, a control paddock with no recent fertiliser history, then a Superior paddock where the soil was tested in the United States' Perry Laboratory giving an in-depth analysis of the soil.

They applied just a half-dose of custom-mixed fertiliser with the recommended base saturations of lime and sulphur. and other trace elements the paddock required. And finally, a straight lime end sulphur paddock applied at the same rate as the Superior paddock.

Basically both paddocks had exactly same rate of lime and sulphur, but the Superior paddock also received the recommended trace elements. We wanted to see if those trace elements were actually going to show any difference.

Q: What were the results of this experiment?
A:. TOM: After 18 months it was very obvious the Superior paddock had a lot more clover cover than the other two and that paddock held on a lot longer in the dry. The ground also felt spongier under foot and manure was breaking down faster.

BEVAN: You could also see the stock preferred the Superior paddock as we grazed the two fertilised paddocks together with the gate open end 80 per cent of the stock consistently grazed on the Superior side."

A Visual Soil Assessment (VSA) was further proof the Superior paddock was healthier than the other two. Anthony and Bevan conducted a VSA in each paddock; five worms were counted in the control paddock's sample;15 worms in the lime and sulphur paddock; and 38 worms in the Superior paddock.

Q: Other than the positive results, what do you like about Superior?
A: BEVAN: I have read a lot about the science on which Superior bases its recommendations and I think what they are saying makes a lot
of sense.(See Neal Kinsey's book: 'Hands-On Agronomy')

I also like that it's a solid fertiliser and not a liquid fertiliser. application is more economical and you're getting more product for your dollar.

Q: Whereto from here with Superior?
A: TOM: We will apply the other half-dose to the trial paddock and we are also currently soil testing other paddocks.  Superior will work within our budget to come up with the best strategy.

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