Richard Hawkes was working as an agronomist when he decided to grow a small trial patch of potatoes using compost to improve crop yields on his family’s 56ha property at Boneo, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
Now that patch has grown into 16ha with seven varieties — about 80 per cent of which is sold through Sydney and Melbourne wholesale markets, with the remainder sold through a farmgate shop — in addition to their crops of carrots, spring onions, parsley and radish. From from next year they will lease an additional 6ha of land. Given the soil is sandy, Richard said he works hard to retain moisture and nutrients, with crop rotation key to high yields.
“A Compost spreader is an expensive piece of machinery
but in the long-term I believe it will pay for itself,
because we’ll have happy worms, grow better crops
and make more money,” Richard said.
An ideal two-yearly paddock rotation would start with a green-manure crop of broccoli. In the past a break crop has been caliente mustard, but this year Richard has leased land to broccoli growers, in order to get a harvestable crop that provides a boost to organic matter and breaks the weed cycle. Broccoli is grown for eight weeks, followed by potatoes, then carrots, spring onions, and radish, then repeated.
SOIL TESTING TIME
SOIL is tested annually for nutrition and an agronomist advises on soil needs. “As much as I’d love to be hands on, working as an agronomist, my role is now as a generalist.” With an annual average rainfall of 450mm, soil is constantly monitored for moisture, with solid set computer-controlled irrigation applying both bore water and class a recycled water from the Eastern Treatment Plant. He said potato farming on sandy soil was a balance of irrigation and disease pressure — “every time you water you create a disease event, it’s a vicious cycle” — with small amounts of fungicide applied following irrigation.