Winter crop checklist for northern grain growers

Author: John Sheppard, GRDC Northern Panellist | Date: 10 May 2013

Photo: GRDC Northern Panellists inspect GRDC-funded winter crop trials in northern NSW.

It’s that time of year again – growers are considering soil moisture and preparing machinery as they head into winter crop planting.

Every year conditions are different but the essential decisions remain the same – variety choice; weed, disease and insect pest management; and crop nutrition.

This checklist gives growers a comprehensive ‘to do list’ that will help growers maximise the potential that each year offers so they will be satisfied when harvest rolls around and yield and protein levels come in.

  1. Rotations – top of the list is the selection of crops and varieties as rotations, summer and winter, have become essential to our farming system in terms of controlling weeds and diseases.
  2. Know your paddock/s – testing is cheap insurance and growers need to ask themselves, ‘Do I know the constraints and potential of every paddock on my farm?’
  3.  Nutrition:
    • Nitrogen – long term protein figures can be a good indicator for N but be aware of impact of recent flooding events. Even if you have been achieving good protein levels in recent seasons, don’t assume N will still be available for this year’s crop if you’ve had a flood or wet summer. It is important to carry out testing to know what your N levels are.
    • Phosphorus – an important nutrient for ensuring good germination, root growth and plant establishment.
    • Zinc – be aware that zinc levels are on the decline in northern region soils.        
  4. Disease:
    • When you are sampling paddocks for N it is a good idea to take the opportunity to subsample for diseases.
    • Crown rot – again, ask the question, ‘Do I know my paddock?’ Tick the box for each paddock, know the disease and weed status. Look for risk indicators for crown rot such as continuous wheat/durum crop sequencing, the presence of stubble, basal browning. If you are unsure, it is a good idea to get a Predicta B test. Remember that whiteheads only show up in wheat, not barley and basal browning is a better indicator of the disease in both crops.
    • Testing is cheap insurance and if you sow a root lesion nematode- or crown rot-susceptible variety you could lose far more than the cost of testing. If you have both diseases together your yield could really suffer. There are a number of nematode and crown rot testing services available.
    • With the recent dry conditions, nematodes may be at depth in the soil. The two types of root lesion nematodes, Pratylenchus neglectus and P. thornei, present with different reactions, tolerance and resistance so it is important to know which species you are dealing with.
    • Tan spot (also known as yellow spot) – good rotations are essential. If you are planting into wheat stubble and are there black lesions on the stubble that can be felt when you run your finger up and down a piece if straw you have  tan spot.
    • We don’t know what the season will bring but climate forecasters expect above average rainfall this winter. A dry start and wet winter are conducive to the spread of tan spot. With a primary tan spot infection, a plant will usually grow out of it but secondary infections can be spread right up to flag leaf when there are repeated rain events.
    • Stripe rust – If you are contemplating a variety that has a rating of susceptible (S) or very susceptible (VS)  for stripe rust the decision is easy – forget it. Consult the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC)-funded National Variety Trial (NVT) results and variety guides for ratings.
    • Rusts – the breeding companies are doing a good job maintaining minimum disease standards . Don’t be afraid to pay EPRs, this is the way for growers to send a message to breeding companies that they are on the right track. That’s the way you say: ‘I accept and value your variety’.
    Photo of John Sheppard
  5. Pulses – these crops enable us to run a sustainable farming system. Crops such as faba beans, field peas and chickpeas are important for their contribution to residual nitrogen and as a breakcrop rotation to help with disease and weed management.
  6. Seed quality - growers should ensure they know germination and vigour levels for this year’s planting seed. This, too, is cheap insurance and it is advisable to get these tests done to achieve an even plant establishment. Growers should be focusing less on the sowing rate and aiming for good, even plant establishment.

For variety information, visit


Caption : GRDC Northern Panellists inspect GRDC-funded winter crop trials in northern NSW.
Caption : John Sheppard, GRDC Northern Panellist.

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