Southern Panel Lessons from 2013
Date: 24 Feb 2014
While season 2013 threw up some challenges, GRDC Southern Panel members outline the lessons they will take into the coming year and the key issues they’ll be watching.
Eyre Peninsula, Yorke Peninsula and Mid North grain growers reported higher-than-normal mouse numbers in paddocks at harvest, prompting warnings that populations could be on the rise leading into seeding this year.
Panel member and EP adviser Mark Stanley says monitoring numbers is the key from now until the season break.
“Many growers have noticed mouse activity, particularly during harvest, so that is a signal to be on the alert for the coming season,” he said.
Panel member and YP agronomist Bill Long says high winds and storms near harvest have meant there is more grain on the ground than what would normally blow out the back of the header.
He says there are several actions growers can take now to minimise the risk:
- Stock heavily if appropriate to remove the feed source, even cultivation may be an option to reduce the feed source.
- Be prepared to bait at the right time and put baiting equipment on airseeders. Two to three days after seeding is too late. The most effective time to bait is when soil has just been disturbed, even with knife points.
- Know soil types that will be affected, such as grey, rubbly soils in South Australia that are preferred by mice.
- Manage stubble before seeding. In previous years, crops that were inter-row sown into standing stubble had more damage because mice were protected from birds and moved along rows, eating seed. Rolling stubble immediately before or after seeding can help.
“We have learned a lot from the previous mouse plague in terms of management and growers need to be prepared because the issue is expected to be a big one.”
GRDC Mouse Control Fact Sheet – www.grdc.com.au/GRDC-FS-MouseControl
GRDC Mouse Management Fact Sheet – www.grdc.com.au/GRDC-FS-MouseManagement
Dry summer and high winds
Panel member and agronomist Rob Sonogan, Swan Hill, Victoria, says in his region of the Wimmera Mallee, one unanticipated problem was cereal-on-cereal contamination of the next crop.
He says the dry summer before seeding last year meant most spilt grain remained on top of the soil so by harvest, there was a lot of wheat in barley, and vice versa.
“We knew there would be a problem but the extent of the problem just caught us out. When there is no livestock and no cultivation, seeds sit on surface and do not germinate until the following year,” he said.
“Another point we were mindful of with the dry summer was chemical carryover. The key message is to understand your chemical residues and what a dry summer means.”
A windy spring also caused yield losses.
“Wind speeds were 15-30 percent higher than average which I believe caused yield losses of 15-20 percent in terms of water use efficiency,” he said. “We know what heat stress looks like and we know what frost damage looks like, so now we have to start factoring wind in to the water use efficiency equation and there are many meteorological stations with that data available.”
Agronomist and grower Bill Long, based on Yorke Peninsula, SA, says eyespot is an emerging issue for many YP, Mid North and Eyre Peninsula croppers, even though it is not a new agronomic disease.
“There were many crops that lodged in some areas last year but being such a good year, lodging was consistent with high seeding rates and too much early growth,” he said.
“Some of that lodging could have been due to eyespot, which affects stem strength. Once you have eyespot in a paddock, it’s difficult to get rid of.”
Mr Long says targeting earlier fungicide applications at growth stage 31, rather than GS33-39 will help control the disease this year.
“Eyespot is an emerging issue and one we need to watch carefully. The disease is on the GRDC’s radar and we are looking at ways to increase our knowledge about it,” he said.
GRDC Eyespot Fact Sheet – www.grdc.com.au/GRDC-FS-Eyespot-Wheat
Harvest fire risk
Mallala, SA, grain grower Richard Konzag says cleanliness of headers was a major issue for lentil growers in the Mid North of South Australia.
Some growers experienced increased ignition of residues, particularly with high exhaust manifold temperatures above the ignition point of residues.
He says many growers were cleaning down machines, some every two hours, and were vigilant in having fire-fighting equipment in the paddock, ready-to-go, just in case.
“The importance of header hygiene and cleanliness was a key message from last harvest.
GRDC Reducing Harvester Fire Risk: Back Pocket Guide – www.grdc.com.au/GRDC-BPG-ReducingHarvesterFireRisk
Time of sowing, slugs
After a dry autumn in Tasmania where Southern Panel chairman Keith Pengilley farms, followed by a wet winter, one of his key lessons from 2013 is the importance of sticking to the normal sowing date.
He says there was a huge yield difference at the end of the season of up to 2.5t/ha between crops sown early and those sown late.
“There’s no point delaying sowing because you go from a dry dust hole to a bog hole in a number of weeks,” he said. “The waterlogging issues were not as bad and the crops seemed to tolerate the wet better when they were sown on time, regardless of how dry it was. It also made paddocks more trafficable and there were no wheel marks. The crop wasn’t as stressed because it wasn’t waterlogged.”
He says weed control became more challenging in the waterlogged conditions because there was no competition from crops.
Slug populations are being closely watched in 2014.
“We are consistently monitoring slugs, with very high stubble loads and high yields last season, it creates ideal conditions and environments for slug pressure. They are always there but as soon as we get rain we will see slug activity. It’s been very dry for the past six weeks.”
Slug control fact sheet – www.grdc.com.au/GRDC-FS-SlugControl
Low protein wheat was a problem in the low rainfall zone last year so growers will be keeping an eye on nitrogen levels going into sowing this year.
Panel member and University of New England lecturer Neil Fettell, Condobolin, NSW, says the low protein was a combination of reasonable yield levels, a dry summer and autumn in 2013 which meant there was little mineralisation, a lack of pulse crops in 2012 and a decline in pasture as some farmers increased cropping.
“While there wasn’t a great price premium for higher protein, some of the proteins were sufficiently low that the crops were clearly N deficient,” he said.
“Growers in lower rainfall areas are necessarily wary of high N fertiliser inputs. However, with another dry summer so far, and few legume crops in 2013, those who haven’t had a legume pasture phase will have to think hard about N supply.
“A few deep soil N tests in early April might be worthwhile, and some paddocks should probably go back to pulses, annual legume pastures or lucerne if soil N levels are low.”
Meanwhile in the SA low rainfall zone, panel member Mark Stanley says some growers put extra nitrogen on in 2013.
While the season did not end favourably and there were higher screenings for some, yields and profits were improved overall.
“N can pay for itself. Even though there were high screenings in the season like we had, where the season is set-up into the spring there can be pay-offs for extra N,” he said.
GRDC Plant available nitrogen fact sheet – www.grdc.com.au/GRDC-FS-PlantAvailableNitrogen
GRDC Better fertiliser decisions for crop nutrition fact sheet – www.grdc.com.au/GRDC-FS-BFDCN
Panel member, consultant and farmer John Minogue, Barmedman, NSW, says growers in his area will be watching for herbicide resistance this year, with some evidence of reduced efficacy of spray in the past year.
He says resistance to Group A chemicals in ryegrass and black oats are the most common at present. Brome grass is becoming a more common weed which has not been seen much before in the West Wyalong area.
He says the emerging problem is highlighting the need to rotate chemicals and factor in cultural methods into control planning, such as windrow burning, in which there has been increased interest this year.
“We’ve had the benefit of observing responses in other areas to herbicide resistance and learning from their approaches. The onset of resistance has been delayed here because we have been rotating chemicals and have had livestock for many years.”
Just north in Condobolin, panel member Neil Fettell says high levels of wild oats were found in some crops in 2013 which are likely to have set considerable amounts of seed.
“If in-crop herbicides were applied and these were escapes, then it is possible that some herbicide resistance is evolving, which has been reasonably rare in this area so far.
“More likely, these paddocks had relatively low weed levels so growers chose not to use expensive grass herbicides given the high-risk environment. However, plans will need to be made pre-season to manage these paddocks and control the oats in a cost-effective way or even change crops.”
John says issues with loose smut last season are a timely reminder of the importance of seed treatments at sowing.
In an effort to save money after the drought, some growers had cut back on treating seed before planting, which resulted in loose smut in deliveries to receival centres at the end of last year.
For tips and tools on weed control, visit www.weedsmart.org.au/10-point-plan/
Summer weeds, frost response
Panel member, irrigator and agronomist Geoff McLeod, Finley, says it was a challenging year for southern NSW with a dry start, dry finish and devastating frost in mid-October.
He says while the frost was severe, there was not much that growers could do in terms of variety selection and sowing time because the event was so late in the season.
“People shouldn’t respond to that frost event by changing their system,” he said. “If it had been a frost at flowering that might have indicated variety selection and sowing time needed to be looked at, but that was not the case.”
Geoff says dry conditions in late 2013 and in early 2014 reinforced the need to control summer weeds to maximise ability to store soil moisture – similar to the start of the previous season.
“The overall message from 2013 was to reinforce the need to get everything right and done on time. Short cuts or slip-ups in these tight, tough years are where the weaknesses in the system are shown and we need to keep on top of things like sowing time, weed control and nitrogen management.”
While the season was showing lots of promise in mid-winter, favourable forecasts for spring rain saw many growers top-dressing nitrogen. When these rains did not eventuate, a lot of nitrogen remained unused by crops or resulted in higher crop growth that led to moisture stressed grain fill.
“The key is to not just rely on forecasts and rainfall charts, assess soil moisture levels yourself – for some people it might be putting in simple moisture meters and for others it might be assessing what moisture is beneath the soil’s surface by probing or digging holes."
He says for irrigators, 2013 was characterised by increases in water prices which meant this year, careful water and financial budgeting was needed to determine how best to maximise crop potential and overall profitability. The early spring irrigation again was showing to be critical for the production of higher yields.
GRDC Frost risk fact sheet, www.grdc.com.au/GRDC-FS-FrostRisk
GRDC Summer fallow spraying fact sheet, www.grdc.com.au/GRDC-FS-SummerFallowSpraying
Region South, National, North, West