Victorian farmers Geoff and Bronwyn Hunt of Normanville are better managers because of the MEYCheck program. Last year, they had 11 paddocks in the scheme.
paddocks in the scheme. "By comparing one crop against another, management problems are quickly identified and it is possible to work out strategies to deal with them before the next season," said Mr Hunt. According to the latest report on Victoria's MEYCheck crop monitoring program, cereal farmers who rotate cereal and barley with grain legumes are producing better crop yields and higher gross margins than those growing cereals only.
management of the rotation appears to be a key factor in explaining the difference between the top and bottom-yielding crops registered with the MEYCheck program," program coordinator, Harm van Rees said. "MEY stands for maximum economic yield and the MEYCheck program, partly funded by growers through the GRDC, is designed to encourage farmers to monitor and record crop growth at critical stages of the rotation."By monitoring disease levels, crop nutrition, plant densities, weed numbers and soil condition, it is possible to identify where management is going wrong, as well as areas where management is succeeding."
The MEYCheck program highlights the importance of key management issues, particularly time of sowing, timing of herbicide applications, and crop nutrition.
Weed control and nutrition
In most seasons, MEYCheck crops established during the optimum sowing period for their district produced yields well ahead of those sown after this period, said Mr van Rees.
All of the top crops in the program achieved excellent weed control while more than half of those producing the poorest yield experienced weed control problems. Achieving control was largely a matter of timing.
"Crops that produce the lowest yields and the poorest protein levels have the lowest zinc levels, whereas all of the high yielding crops with protein levels above 10.5 per cent were not deficient in zinc," said Mr van Rees. (See p5 for the latest on zinc research.)
Sulfur deficiency also emerged as a problem in the lower-yielding crops. This is associated with the present move to high-analysis fertilisers. Adding gypsum during a crop rotation is the best solution in Victorian cereal growing districts, said Mr van Rees.
MEYCheck results show the top yields were more a function of management than rainfall in Victoria. The highest-yielding crops were produced by growers who paid attention to all the variables affecting crop growth
Rotating for the best yield
The higher-yielding crops were invariably grown following a grass-free break crop in soil with sufficient soil fertility. The crops were able to take full advantage of the available moisture, the nutrition and the effective weed control. As a result of their involvement with the MEYCheck program, the Hunts have established a number of important management guidelines including:
- start with a legume-based pasture
- don't grow cereal after cereal
- if possible, establish a two-year cereal disease break
- keep cultivation to a minimum.
"A medic-dominant pasture followed by a grain legume sets up an excellent two-year disease break for the following wheat crop." Geoff Hunt said. Last year, the Hunts' best wheat yield, of 4.7 t/ha was produced from a crop sown into a bean stubble.
Recipe for success
1992 figures indicated the crops with the greatest economic return were chickpeas and canola.
According to Rochester grower David Lees, whose canola crop produced the highest gross margin of $727 per hectare in last year's MEYCheck program, planning a rotation two or three years ahead allows you to set up the paddock to overcome most management problems.
"The program begins when I come out of a good legume pasture," he said."Spray topping the pasture before seed set reduces the carryover of weeds. The following wheat crop benefits from soil nitrogen built up by the legume pastures.
"During the wheat year, it is very easy to control broadleaved weeds. The next crop is a legume such as lupins and this provides an excellent opportunity to again reduce the grass weeds with a selective herbicide.
With weeds under control, the canola crop that follows can be sown with confidence."