IT took about 20 years for the conservation tillage revolution to fully catch on across Australia's cropping regions.
The liquid fertilisers revolution may take a fraction of that time.
'Liquid inject' is a phrase rapidly entering the language of broadacre cropping.
It describes a single technology, that of pumping liquid fertilisers, chemicals or biology into the furrow along with seed, but translates to several different productivity outcomes.
Powering the liquid inject movement is the technology's flexibility, coupled with grain growers' urge to move beyond simplistic NPK application.
Fertiliser production is no longer a business solely for those with access to a granulation plant.
"Farmers have never had this much power," says soil researcher Michael Eyres of South Australian consultancy Injekta Research.
"They don't realise it yet, but they are starting to understand how you build fertiliser - how you source raw ingredients.
"They've learned how to do trials using GPS.
"They're becoming their own source of knowledge."
The liquid products now offered by the fertiliser majors are jostling for space with products from a growing host of smaller specialists.
Some farmers with a taste for experimentation choose to DIY, from sourcing the nutrients to brewing their own blends.
Hugh Cleal, manager of a Boggabilla, NSW, aggregation for the Wilson family, this year sowed 5666 hectares of winter crops using only liquid inject fertilisers.
The three brands of liquid products he used were all from small companies with a local manufacturing presence.
"It helps money to stay in the district," he said.
Flexibility applies not only to purchasing choices.
Different products from different manufacturers can be mixed and matched with a freedom impossible in a granular-based system.
Knowledge and caution are needed for grain growers preparing their own tank mixes, but within these criteria lies an endless permutation of possibilities.
Urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) is the carrier liquid of choice for many. Depending on compatibility, the mix might also contain trace elements, inoculants, biology or fungicides.
If products aren't compatible for a mix, no matter.
Emerging liquid inject technology means that different ingredients can be banded in the soil at different rates so they can work independently.
The ease of applying variable rate technology to liquids is one of the method's attractions.
At Tutye, in north-west Victoria, Matthew Parker, brother Sam and father Hedley, this year used two liquid inject-equipped rigs to put in 7000ha of winter crop.
Across farms with five distinct soil types, DAP granules were conventionally drilled with seed at rates ranging from 0-50kg/ha.
Into the same furrow, the liquids system contributed UAN at rates ranging from 20-50 l/ha, while liquid formulations of fungicide, zinc and copper were administered in constant independent streams by Liquid Systems's Australian-developed Spyker unit.
This multitasking single-pass ability is another of liquid inject's attractions.
"We've freed ourselves up to have more flexibility post-emergence," Mr Parker said.
"You get everything out at sowing so the plant has all it needs from the start."
After building and discarding three liquid inject rigs over seven years, Hugh Cleal reckons he's properly cracked liquid inject's promise of efficiency with the fourth.
He oversaw a 2009 winter crop sowing using two independent liquids-equipped seeding rigs trailing 4000-litre tanks behind the seed cart.
The set-up gave his operators enough of everything to complete their 12-hour shifts without stopping for top-ups.
Experienced liquid injectors say they can cut nutrient costs with liquids if necessary, but most choose to work to a standard fertiliser budget, making up efficiencies gained in macronutrients with an investment in trace elements or other nutrition.
Agronomically, liquids seem to provide comparative performance with granules, but after a run of bad years, yield comparisons are scarce.
Mr Eyres reports that yield gains of 10-15 percent are feasible, depending on the operator and their program.
Liquid fertilisers are more available to the plant, less prone to volatilisation, and lend themselves to nutrition programs that improve soil health - a common desire of the liquid injectors users interviewed by Rural Press.
After six years on a steep learning curve, Cadoux, WA, liquid injector Anthony Applegate reports that pushing a shovel between his 12-inch (30cm) wheat rows reveals a mass of intertwined feeder roots.
Colloidal organic carbon levels in the sand-over-clay soils have lifted from 0.2pc five years ago to 2pc in more intensively treated areas.
Mr Applegate's crop nutrition, part of the Australian Soil Planners program, is designed to deliver the maximum long-term gross margin, "which is not directly related to yield alone", he said.
More importantly, he aims to minimise the drought and frost risk inherent in crop production in a 300mm average rainfall zone.
"We're not immune to insects, frosts and dry finishes, but as we go down this line, we're getting much more tolerant of those pressures," he said.
"The weed spectrum is also changing back to being more like it was in my father's day."
"I enjoyed farming the chemical way, but that was taking us in the other direction."
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