FUTURE FARMING: Conservationist Jay Fuhrer discusses improving soil health and profitability at the Vic No-Till conference.

ROBOTS working in swarms to kill pests and weeds in a non-tilled paddock might sound far-fetched, but farmers are increasingly looking to high-tech solutions to protect their crops and their soil.

During this month’s Vic No Till conference week, farmers heard about a Queensland University of Technology project using agricultural robots to increase timely spray applications and reduce compaction.

The futuristic project was just one of a number of methods that could one day form best practice on Australian farms.

About 120 farmers attended farm workshops in Raywood, Rupanyup and Streatham as part of the conference to hear about improving farming systems and profitability.

Victorian No-Till Farmers Association president Tim Pilkington said it was their best conference week yet.

“Our role is to present the next big things in agriculture to our growing member base and this conference truly lived up to its theme of ‘For Farmers, By Farmers’,” he said.

No-till farming is a global movement that seeks methods to reduce the amount of cultivation to improve soil structure and organic matter.

It’s great to see us reach such a broad network and foster such enthusiasm.

Tim Pilkington

Conference guest Jay Fuhrer, a conservationist from North Dakota, provided an example as to how the no-till methods could be applied to farms across the globe.

He visited farms near Bendigo, Ballarat and Telangatuk before speaking at the conference about integrating cover crops.

Mr Pilkington said the conservationist’s insight proved “invaluable”.

“Jay’s focus is on using the land more effectively by improving diversity with plants and beneficials that are more closely matched to what would occur naturally,” he said.

“After being inspired by Jay’s farm visits and the conference, several Victorian farmers will grow cover cropping this summer.

“It’s great to see Vic No-Till reach such a broad network and foster such enthusiasm to get back to their own farms and try new ideas.”

Federal Member for Mallee Andrew Broad opened the conference as a farmer implementing no-till practices in his own business.

There were also discussions about using precision agriculture to control slug populations, incorporating seasonal forecasts into whole farm plans and getting correct residue spread.

Vic No-Till also demonstrated the DEPI-led Innovations in Cropping Systems project, which would highlight the differences between controlled traffic and non-controlled traffic paddocks.

Mr Pilkington said it was important to have farmers, sponsors, researchers and government organisations in the same room to discuss the future of no-till farming.

originally posted in Bendigo Advertiser 29th July 2014