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Intensive barley grass-growing system could have the answer to drought-proofing farms covered

Justin Huntsdale, Monday September 10, 2018 - 06:29 EST
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Alan Smith's seed trays at various stages of growth in Jamberoo. - ABC

A New South Wales farmer has built an intensive indoor fodder system he says can be built cheaply and provide a lifeline to farmers to drought-proof their property.

Alan Smith, from Jamberoo on the south coast, rolls up a portion of his latest mini crop of barley grass, cuts it with a razor blade and stacks the neat squares on a container ready to be fed to his pigs.

It is a day's meal, full of nutrients, and grown in just seven days.

"I've seen too many reports where farmers are at their wit's end and don't know what to do, they're selling off livestock and animals are dying in the paddock. And here's a simple solution," he said.

"This is a tool that can help those people. I can't sit here in all good conscience with the knowledge of how to do this."

Having perfected his small-scale system at his property, he wants all farmers struggling to feed their livestock to consider building one for themselves.



How the growing system works

It all starts with a humble bag of barley seed.

"We take five kilograms of seed and soak it, then put it in the tray and when we harvest it. It's 30 kilograms," Mr Smith said.

"That's six times the amount [of food] and the nutrients are all still there. We haven't added anything into the system, so technically it's organic."

His trial system has eight trays kept warm with a water heating system and household insulation underneath, with the seeds watered for one minute, once an hour.

An intensive indoor grass-growing device is not new, nor is it his invention, but Mr Smith has worked hard to make it an affordable tool which could be expanded to meet bigger farms.

He wanted to create something that other farmers could build using materials found in a hardware store.

"I just built a small hydronic heating system and we have a heated tank with two simple aquarium heaters that cost $46," he said.

"Given this works so well, why doesn't every farmer have one in their shed?"

The key is warming the tray to encourage germination and growth.

The room temperature can fluctuate, but root temperature is crucial.

"The warm water heating the trays then drops back into the reservoir at the far end and the same water then is used to water the seeds," Mr Smith said.

"The same water then waters the roots and drips out at the other end into the tank and the cycle starts again."

By recycling the water, the system is efficient in a drought, while solar panels could further reduce operating costs — which Mr Smith said are already low.

Increasing size and production



At Mr Smith's Jamberoo farm he grows cattle and pigs.

While the grass is a suitable meal for his pigs, he would need a significant upgrade to service his cattle.

"The next system we're working on, we're trying to do a 28-tray system and use the vertical space," he said.

"It will be seven in a row and four high to create a pod, and that will then become a building block for much larger systems where you can just repeat that block.

"It's very much a drought tool and not the be-all and end-all for feeding your animals."

But it might be the lifeline that farmers need to take control of their feed supply, and in doing so, cut the cost of buying food and transporting it to their farm.

It also dramatically increases the value they get from their barley feed as seeds are transformed into grass in seven days.

Mr Smith said there is an emotional driver behind him sharing his technique.

"People need to be made aware you can do this yourself and if I can do it after only farming for seven years, anyone can do it."


- ABC

© ABC 2018

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