What are SIFT systems?
Strategic Integrated Farming Technologies, or SIFT systems use PFT pasture and forage legume varieties with their outstanding agronomic performance and revolutionary seed production genetics, to create high quality, high yield pastures and forages at minimal cost virtually on demand. Cheap, high quality seed of our varieties produced on farm under license can be used to change pastures and forages into profit-generating tools of exceptional versatility. Farm produced seed enables sowing of low cost, high return pastures and forages as and when needed; and their management and manipulation to achieve both specific outcomes and strong profit margins. These high performance legume pastures and forages can underwrite almost any rotational need from animal or forage production to weed and disease control or crop yield and quality improvement, while boosting soil nitrogen inventory and increasing land capital value. Because the pasture phase can be seeded as and when needed, it can be as closely and easily controlled as the crop, while selection of particular rotation sequences can be made and altered at will.
This unprecedented flexibility and capacity to manipulate, strategically integrate and control the entire rotation via pastures and forages of PFT legume varieties is the basis of SIFT systems. Every enterprise has different economic, biological and social imperatives, every farm and paddock has different attributes and potential, every year throws different weather and markets at you. PFT varieties and SIFT systems give the capacity to respond accordingly. Each farmer can purpose design their own SIFT system so that their farm business can take advantage of virtually any set of circumstances to maximise both short and long term profitability and sustainability.
In one sense, SIFT systems are almost impossible to define because they can be virtually anything you want. With the backup of decades of scientific, technical and practical knowledge and experience afforded both by us and our vibrant, interactive client groups, they are only really limited by your imagination, so it is perhaps easier to present some topical examples to show how they work.
Using SIFT systems and PFT varieties for short term benefits.
- Improve animal carrying capacity and profit.
Most pastures can be radically improved through increased legume content. In the case of wheat-sheep zone pastures for example, average carrying capacities can be readily doubled or tripled, and the high quality of the pasture means that more profitable and value added animal products such as meat or breeding stock can be readily produced. With PFT varieties and SIFT systems you can make these systems far more profitable, because the ability to sow those pastures cheaply and easily means you do not need to sacrifice either carrying capacity or crops to maintain pasture legume seed banks for example.
- Reduce fertiliser costs and restore N balance.
Nitrogenous fertiliser is one of the greatest costs confronting the average crop farmer. By using a SIFT system which incorporates a PFT legume phase, this cost is dramatically reduced, because a good legume can fix huge quantities of nitrogen from the atmosphere for free. The general rule is the better the legume, the more N fixed; nearly 500 kg/ha of urea equivalent has been measured. That saves big dollars on crop input costs, and this is a direct addition to the bottom line profit.
- Improve crop yields economically and efficiently.
Strategic use of legumes in rotation with cereals cuts crop disease and weed problems and increases yields. Being able to achieve this simply and cheaply with SIFT systems and PFT varieties means that the entire rotation becomes far more profitable; the improved pasture increases both crop and animal profits at the same time.
- Respond rapidly to seasonal variation.
PFT varieties coupled with SIFT systems enable rapid response to whatever the season throws at you. With licensed production of seed of PFT varieties on-farm, seed is easily and cheaply replaced, so dry sowing is not a huge risk. Hence you can sow early and take advantage of any production opportunities offered by an early break, and whenever the break occurs, you have the flexibility to manipulate the area of pasture to suit your needs for that year.
- Reduce crop risk in poor years.
One of the major risks of a late start for cropping is the high likelihood of an average or poor finish cutting back crop yields to uneconomic levels. By use of PFT varieties and SIFT systems, this risk can be dramatically decreased. In a late break, you can reduce your crop area and increase the pasture/forage area to guarantee a base income, because unlike for crops, useful forage production occurs from day 1. Then if the season does turn out OK, you can still make a fair profit from your crop and have more than adequate feed reserves for stock plus perhaps even cut high quality hay for storage or sale.
- Profit from short term market opportunities.
At present, if you are crop focussed, then switching into animal or forage production to take advantage of favourable short-term prices is not all that feasible, because seeding and growing a pasture or forage legume is expensive. However, with PFT varieties, you can produce your own seed under licence at minimal cost and that means you can switch in and out virtually at will to suit both your own particular SIFT system and take advantage of the market.
- Grow better quality crops.
If you are into growing quality crops (eg high protein wheat or durum for example), SIFT systems will be a great help in achieving those quality outcomes. By strategic use of PFT pasture and forage legume varieties, soil fertility parameters can be optimised for the specific crop requirement at the right time within the rotation sequence.
- Control of herbicide resistant weeds.
Herbicide resistant weeds are the bugbear of many crop systems. Tens of millions of dollars are spent on their control and yet they still cost tens of millions of dollars more in lost production. With a SIFT system, you need no longer sacrifice profit to achieve adequate control. You simply sow a PFT variety at the appropriate time and manage that paddock for both weed control and pasture/forage production and profit. You can literally turn a crop cost into animal profit.
Using SIFT systems and PFT varieties for longer term benefits.
- Creating a more flexible and profitable farming system.
The flexibility and profitability of farming tomorrow is dependent on the inputs of today. The enterprise limitations being imposed on many farms now often trace to decisions made long ago; we can be painted into corners that limit profitability we never even thought existed back a few years. Who would have guessed animal product prices in Australia would have rebounded so sharply, or foreseen the seemingly intractable nature of the crop cost/price squeeze, or that fuel and nitrogen fertiliser costs would have gone through the roof or the Medusa-style problem of herbicide resistance?
By implementing and using SIFT systems with PFT varieties, maximum flexibility to respond to those unforeseen circumstances is maintained. Instead of being a slave to their chosen farming system, SIFT systems enable the individual business operator to manipulate their enterprise to suit their own needs. In doing so, they are not locked into something that turns out to be unprofitable either in any one year or in the long term.
About all you can say of SIFT systems and locking in is that they offer the best opportunity to lock in long term farm business profitability and sustainability.
- Building farm capital value.
With relatively few exceptions, most broad acre agricultural land value has been and is assessed according to what the proven stock carrying capacity of that land is and what the prospects and costs are for long term production maintenance. That makes sound business sense, and with declining margins, it is sound business sense that will be the primary driver of our agriculture and the assessment of the value of its land resource base.
Most of our crop production uses rates of nitrogenous fertiliser that do not fully replace N removed with the crop. To adequately replace the nitrogen removed from the soil N pool with fertiliser N currently costs around $25 per tonne of cereal grain, and that cost is growing rapidly in parallel with fossil fuel prices. An objective business analysis will take account of that decline in pool N as a run down of inventory. But by the same measure where N is added to the pool, for example through biological means using a high performance legume pasture, this will add to the inventory reserves and hence grow the effective capital value of the land itself.
These increases can be huge. For example the calculated nominal difference in value between mid-rainfall land continuously cropped using normal rates of N fertiliser and land using SIFT systems with legume pastures after just ten years can be more than $400/ha through higher N pool reserves alone. The latter will also have a considerably higher proven stock carrying capacity, (~4 or 5 dse/ha) and even if the additional carrying is only valued at $100/dse, the nominal difference in land value between the two is close to $1 000/ha. Over a thousand or so hectares, that adds up to big dollars and if the farm is your super scheme, that is about the difference between being able to retire in a Eucla shack and a Gold Coast mansion.
Hence by using SIFT systems and PFT varieties to grow high production, nitrogen fixing pastures and forages, both stock carrying capacity and pool N reserves are increased and the effective farm capital value as realised at sale of the land itself is likewise very significantly increased.
- Building a sound and growing business.
Any sound business, including an agricultural business needs to be profitable in both the short and long term, flexible to respond to change and robust enough to weather unforeseen circumstances. To grow that business, any investment must more than pay for itself. In broad acre agriculture, that is where SIFT systems come in, because they provide the foundation not only for a sound business but also for the capacity to grow that business. Economic analysis shows that at current average levels of production and profit with both crops and pastures, there is not sufficient net return created to warrant investment in outside labour or land to enable business expansion. However, with the use of PFT varieties in SIFT systems, there can be a very significant expansion in real business income with no additional land and little outside labour requirement. That therefore allows the business to build reserves and/or invest in new land and/or employ someone to assist in farming operations; ie for an ongoing expansion in the farm business.
Hence while most current farming systems would be unprofitable if they relied on either hiring their labour or buying their land, SIFT systems can change that around. With it, the astute manager can generate returns per labour unit and per hectare that are sufficient to justify buying additional land and using hired labour to work it. Few broad acre farm businesses are able to manage that at present, and it is an interesting thought that in consequence many farmers using current farming systems end up working for a wage that no employee would accept.
- Achieving sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line.
The goal of the Triple Bottom Line for farming (economic, social and environmental sustainability) is far more easily achieved through use of SIFT systems than for any current common broad acre farming systems. Many of today’s systems are in danger of failing on all three scores because of run down of soil nutrient reserves (particularly as pointed out above of N) in generating crop income. That may result in profitability in the short term, but it is not economically or environmentally sustainable in the long term. Eventually N reserves will run down to the point that production is uneconomic and poor plant growth will leave land exposed to erosion, while reduced water use will compound leaching, salinisation and acidification. That is not a socially acceptable outcome either.
Using SIFT systems that incorporate a PFT pasture or forage legume phase can readily reverse the downward trend in soil N reserves and actually improve total short and long term profitability as well. That method of adding N to the system through biological fixation is also far more greenhouse gas friendly. N fertiliser manufacture requires burning of large amounts of fossil fuel, with consequent raising of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, while application of nitrogenous fertilisers results in liberation of nitrous oxide, which is a very powerful greenhouse gas in its own right.
Hence from a social viewpoint, legume alternatives to N fertiliser are far more acceptable, and SIFT systems incorporating legumes can be the ultimate basis of farming to achieve the Triple Bottom Line.
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