- Conservation farming has retained soil moisture
- Yields have increased following the adoption of no-tillage
- Herbicide resistance is an emerging issue
- Chickpeas have proven the most profitable crop over 10 years
No-tillage and tramline farming combined with effective weed control are proving a winning formula for one northern New South Wales family
For the Bartelens, who farm near Tulloona, 65 kilometres north of Moree in northern New South Wales, the need to conserve every drop of moisture has meant adopting no-tillage, controlled-traffic farming and using a disc planter to leave as much stubble as possible on the soil surface.
Growers: Darryl and Sara Bartelen
Location: Tulloona, New South Wales
Farm size: 3000ha (owned); 1000ha (leased)
Area cropped: 3200ha
Annual rainfall (long-term mean): 523mm
Soil type: grey cracking clay (vertisol)
Soil pH (calcium chloride): 8
Enterprises: cropping; cattle
Typical crop rotation: chickpeas/barley/faba beans/wheat/sorghum
Knowing that stored moisture is responsible for producing up to 80 per cent of yield in dry years, Darryl and his wife Sara are determined to conserve and use as much of the precious resource as possible.
They changed from conventional farming to no-tillage and permanent two-metre tramlines in 2001. At the time, the family’s average wheat yield was 1.5 tonnes per hectare. Since adopting no-tillage farming to conserve moisture, employing sound fertiliser strategies and adopting new varieties, their 10-year average wheat yield is now almost 3t/ha.
In 2007, with little to no moisture in the soil, the header was sent into the paddocks to see if there was enough yield to justify harvesting. The following year at planting the damage to and compaction of the soil by the header tracks was obvious and “red flags” went up. By 2009, Darryl had changed all machinery to 3m wheel spacings (matching the header) and 12m swathe widths (or multiples of) were implemented.
Weeds a numbers game
Aside from the difficulty of managing crops under an unpredictable and drying climate, Darryl says weeds are the second-biggest challenge on the farm. The main culprits are barnyard grass and fleabane, but he also sees a potential problem with milk thistles and button grass.
To address the issue, weed seeds with suspected resistance have been sent away for testing to determine the most appropriate herbicides to apply.
Darryl sees herbicide resistance as a numbers game and is determined to limit the weed seedbank by using a double and sometimes a triple-knock of herbicides if required.
“Weeds are something we have to nip in the bud early,” he says. “If we don’t, we will have a headache for a long time.”
According to Darryl, fleabane is no longer the most difficult weed to control because of his judicious use of the double-knock strategy, but barnyard grass is increasingly difficult to manage.
In the past he used a weed-detection sprayer on contract to control large weeds that had escaped the broadacre spray. Darryl was so impressed with the results he bought a 36m weed-detection sprayer to lower the weed seedbank with the use of appropriate rates of herbicide.
When it came time to look at maximising returns in an increasingly water-limited environment, Darryl and Sara undertook a comprehensive analysis of their crop rotation to minimise the impact of disease and herbicide resistance, while also allowing the flexibility to capitalise on opportunities presented by high grain prices.
“I looked at the 10-year profit on all my crops, and chickpeas are the most profitable crop I can grow,” Darryl says. “Our farming system is now rotated around chickpeas instead of wheat.”
Before planting, he treats the chickpeas with a peat-based inoculant. Darryl likes to use more inoculant and water than is recommended because he sees it as a good opportunity to ensure the plants can convert nitrogen from the air into nitrogen in the soil. The chickpeas are planted around 15 May at 60 kilograms per hectare with 50kg/ha of monoammonium phosphate plus zinc.
“Chickpeas are also a great crop for drier conditions because of their capacity to emerge from incredible depths, allowing for moisture seeking as deep as 20 centimetres,” Darryl says.
While planting the chickpeas into cereal stubbles has been mostly problem free in the past, Darryl says that in 2014 the chickpeas were damaged by residual herbicide carryover (Group B) from the cereal phase because of a prolonged dry spell.
In most years, Darryl applies two fungicide sprays, one herbicide for grass weed control and one insecticide for pest control. The crops are then desiccated to ensure they ripen evenly for harvest and to control late-emerging weeds within the crop.
Darryl says his five-year average yield of 2.2t/ha and prices of about $450/t make chickpeas his most lucrative enterprise.
Darryl Bartelen, Tulloona, New South Wales, in a crop of chickpeas on the property he farms with his wife Sara. For the past 10 years chickpeas have been their most profitable crop.
PHOTO: Nicole Baxter
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