Timeliness a key to cropping success

Author: John Sheppard | Date: 16 Mar 2015

Image of John Sheppard, GRDC Northern Panel member

By John Sheppard, GRDC Northern Panellist, Toowoomba

Timeliness of agronomic management practices has proven to be one of the biggest influences on crop profitability.

While the concept is simple, achieving it requires forward planning, dedication and an ability to respond to seasonal or agronomic changes.

Done well, the end result can be a game-changer for grain yields and gross margins and “profit draggers” can suddenly become profit drivers.

As growers and agronomists gear up for the winter cropping season, they will be looking to instigate planning in areas that, unlike the weather, they can control.

This includes seed quality, varietal selection, disease risk assessment, weed management and soil nutrition.

Decisions made now can have a long-term impact on the farming rotation, affecting not only this crop but subsequent crop options, management and performance.

It’s important to start the season knowing as much as possible about your paddocks – the more you know, the better your management decisions.

Check soil moisture levels – while this sounds basic, particularly to those growers who rarely leave the shed without a push probe and shovel, it is a critical starting point for good decision making. It’s important to accurately assess the depth of moisture across a paddock and in different paddocks especially where there’s a variation in soil type.

Know whether moisture is evenly distributed down the profile, if there are any dry bands that would prevent root penetration and if the paddock will require wetting up to ensure the crop does not suffer any early setbacks.

Assess weed control requirements and options and ensure plant-back is not going to pose an issue if residual herbicides have been previously applied.

A baseline assessment of nutrient levels will determine whether they are adequate for the intended crop as well as yield and protein targets, and help growers match fertiliser programs to projected crop requirements.

The disease status of individual paddocks will be a key driver of varietal selection and crop performance and pre-plant assessments should be undertaken for crown rot and root lesion nematodes, which can both be assessed using the DNA-based soil testing service PreDicta B®. Occurrence of these problems is not evenly spread across a paddock so adequate sampling is essential to ensure a true indication of disease level is obtained.

When sampling for a crown rot test, it’s important to remember to include short pieces of stubble from the base of cereal plants (‘spiking’) to significantly improve the detection of the Fusarium species that cause crown rot.

Growers should also be on the look-out for signs of yellow spot which will normally present as pepper marks on stubble, although the season will ultimately determine what impact this disease has on the crop.

Ascochyta blight reared its head in chickpea crops last year and should serve as a warning to growers to be careful of their seed source, hygiene and rotations.

Crop and varietal selection need to take all of these assessments into account – check the tolerance and resistance ratings of varieties against the disease status of paddocks and avoid planting susceptible varieties. Comprehensive data on individual varieties can be found on the Grains Research and Development (GRDC)’s National Variety Trials (NVT) website.

Maturity will also be a consideration in crop varietal selection, with growers looking to time crop flowering after the last frost. It sounds easier in theory than it is in practice so planting a few different varieties that cover a spread of sowing rainfall events can help minimise the risk of frost damage.

When it comes to choosing a canola variety, interaction between maturity, herbicide tolerance and blackleg rating come to play.

Seed purity can make or break a crop’s management and performance and growers should always check the purity of retained seed – if in doubt, get it tested. Germination and vigour should also be conducted on seed as germination tests don’t always tell the whole story.

Making decisions on a specific crop and variety are not simple and require the integration of all available information available.

But if you invest time and effort, you will be rewarded knowing you have made the best decision based on a rigorous process.


Caption: GRDC Northern Panel member John Sheppard.

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John Sheppard, GRDC Northern Panel, Toowoomba
0418 746 628


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