2020 cropping – the farmer perspective

Author: | Date: 27 Feb 2020

Take home messages

  • Aim for the biggest return, lowest cost, least risk
  • As dryland cropping farmers, we are in the business of turning rainfall into money. After three years of drastically below average rainfall, our business model is severely compromised! In fact, 2019 had the lowest March to September rainfall on record
  • Access to working capital is a big factor in decision making. We cannot afford another “no-profit” season. 2020 must pay.

Fertiliser strategies

There should be a focus on extracting maximum production from the minimum input. Fertiliser application should concentrate on phosphorus, that is, MAP. The best return from fertiliser comes from the first amount applied, even if those amounts are relatively small. A very advantageous response from phosphorus fertiliser comes from placement with the seed at sowing. Often, even adequate phosphorus soils produce a profitable P response from such application. If the season starts to go well, that is, the risk of failure reduces, we can add nitrogen as the budget allows, and chase maximum production.

Crop selection

I am inclined to focus on cereals in 2020. They are the cheapest to grow, they are very reliable, grow well in bare soil, provide the fastest path to ground cover, and can be grazed or cut for hay if the season is poor, still providing income.
I would avoid high input crops at scale, such as canola – too expensive to do well, and if anything happens with the season such as poor finish, late frost, it’s a big loss we can’t afford.

I would also not be going too hard at chickpeas. I see them as a high risk crop. They are  dependent on AMF (VAM) and long fallow disorder could be an issue in most crop paddocks this year. Chickpeas are vulnerable to chemical residues. They have a high seed cost and leave virtually no ground cover. Also, if the season is wet, which after three dry years, it could be, chickpeas encounter a lot of problems. Disease, chemical shortages, cost of fungicides, etc, and ability to apply them in the wet. Wet harvest leads to seed splitting and grain dockages. Too many problems = high risk crop.

In my mind, a mix of wheat, barley and oats, as the bulk of the crop, will be the most reliable profit driver to get the cropping system back in order for the lowest cost in 2020.

Herbicide residues

We must be aware of previously applied residual herbicides, especially sulfonylurea (SU) herbicides (Ally®, Logran®, Glean®, etc.). Balance can also cause issues. Most need rainfall to breakdown, and there has not been much of that. It will be especially an issue on heavier alkaline soils. Soil test, or a “pot test” might be the best bet on suspect paddocks, however false negatives can occur, as SU symptoms can be slow to appear, and/or the herbicide might be deeper in the profile and not affect the crop until later in the season.  If in doubt, go for a crop that is tolerant of the herbicide residue you have concerns about.

Weed resistance

With all the fodder that has been bought into the district in recent years, one must also be well aware of new weed seeds, or indeed weed seeds that are chemical resistant. Prime source locations would be SA and WA, but weed resistance can come from anywhere. Everyone should monitor places bought in hay has been fed out for problems in this area.

Risk management

Base decisions on the rain you have had, not the rain you think you will get.

Wait till it rains before you sow, or at least don’t plant big areas dry, on a whim without rain. Higher risk strategies might be more acceptable in other years, but after three years of near zero dryland production, we cannot afford another failure. I would limit or eliminate the area of high risk crops. I would limit the area of high input crops. Maximise the area of high flexibility crops, that is, those that offer grain/ or hay/ or grazing/ and or groundcover. Keep inputs low at least until the season unfolds. It is also worth noting that doing nothing is also a high risk option, (because it guarantees no income), unless it does not rain at all. Then, as in 2019, it becomes the best option!


It is a season for low input, low risk crops and strategies that offer maximum flexibility.
Every drought has broken and this one will break too. Long droughts are rare, and mostly they break in the autumn.
It is only production that will generate income and pay off debt. So in 2020, a focus on low cost, low risk production is our way out. If this season turns out a good one, we must extract everything we can from it, so don't be afraid to chase it with extra inputs, (nitrogen) if it's on.

Remember, yield is the key driver of profit in the dryland cropping system. As croppers at Nyngan, we make 60% of our money, in 30% of the years, so if it's a 30% year, we must not miss out.

Contact details

Breil Jackson
Nyngan, NSW
“Bogan River Downs” Nyngan
Email: breil@bigpond.com

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