Summer rain adds to crop management options for season 2013

Map of GRDC Western Region Thumbnail

A farming family from Eurongilly in southern New South Wales is growing crops for grazing and grain production in a concerted effort to make the most of every resource on their farm
 

With summer storms releasing welcome rainfall, James Brady is cautiously optimistic about what season 2013 might hold for his family’s farm at Eurongilly, New South Wales.

The 38-year-old, who helps out part-time on the 1024-hectare farm while working full-time as an agronomist for seed company Seed Force, says the area sown to barley has been increased this season, mainly as a risk management measure because barley tends to produce higher yields than wheat if conditions turn dry.

But the HindmarshPBR logo barley grown on-farm also forms an important feed source for the family’s 3350 self-replacing primeline maternal ewe flock.

Generally, the barley is mixed with lupins at a rate of 2:1 and handfed to stock from mid-January to 30 April, depending on the seasonal break.

“We find three kilograms per head a week is enough to maintain the sheep over summer,” James says.

“If they enter our drought lot, they begin on 2kg/head/week for two weeks with ad-lib wheaten or barley straw. The grain ration is then increased to 3kg/head/week.”

Key points

  • Barley plantings increased as a risk management measure after recent experience shows barley yields more than wheat in dry seasons
  • Early sowing allows cereal and canola crops to bulk up for grazing in winter
  • A break from grazing during winter creates a wedge of pasture available to sheep in spring

Diversification into cropping

Originally from Cooma, NSW, James’s parents James and Pip moved to Eurongilly a decade ago, with an initial purchase of 400ha, in a bid to diversify their business beyond grazing.

Since then their landholding has expanded to 1024ha, 70 per cent of which is cropped. Most of the crops are grazed and then locked up for grain production, while a smaller portion of crop is grown solely for grain.

Depending on seasonal conditions, the sheep are given an opportunity to graze most of the crops planted. A 2006 trial with local grower group FarmLink showed young ewe lambs grazing EGA WedgetailPBR logo wheat produced liveweight gains of 300 grams per day on average, or about 2kg per week.

The Bradys’ strategy is to allow sheep to graze their cereal crops from the five-leaf stage (or whenever the crop is anchored) until the end of July, or even into August in some years.

Each paddock is generally set stocked and then crash grazed towards the end of July, depending on moisture, to ensure even crop maturity. Stocking rates are adjusted to achieve an even grazing across the paddocks. The usual rate is about 50 dry sheep equivalents/ha.

“The sheep are fussy, so the most important grazing is the first,” James says. “If the crop is allowed to become too long at one end of the paddock on the first grazing – more than a beer bottle in height – we find the sheep don’t really utilise that end of the paddock, preferring to hang around the end where the crop is shorter.”

With declining returns identified as one of the family’s biggest concerns, the farming system has been designed to convert as much rain into green feed and grain as possible.

Key to this has been careful attention to summer spraying to control weeds and the purchase of a stubble mulcher to smash stubbles after harvest to conserve moisture over summer and allow early sowing.

Following 105 millimetres of rain over four days at the end of February, the Bradys planted a 40ha paddock to SF Brazzil (a new, European winter-type, open-pollinated, dual-purpose canola variety for grazing and grain) on 9 March, and then a further three paddocks to EGA WedgetailPBR logo wheat from 10 to 11 March.

When Ground Cover caught up with James in March, other crops earmarked for planting in April included the triazine-tolerant (TT) canola ATR-GemPBR logo, EGA GregoryPBR logo wheat, HindmarshPBR logo barley, Coolabah oats and LuxorPBR logo albus lupins.

“Lupins are only back in the mix after we achieved some excellent APH2 wheat when it was sown on one and two-year-old lupin stubbles,” James says.

“We’ll also use the lupins as a protein supplement for ewe lambs grazing stubbles over summer to get them to a joinable weight of 46kg at eight months to lamb at 13 months, and for flushing the ewes in late summer to encourage them to produce multiple lambs.”

Photo of a man up a ladder.

James Brady – summer rain helps maximise grain
and graze opportunities.

PHOTO: Paul Jones

Early sowing

After seeing recent trial results from CSIRO research scientist Dr James Hunt that showed growers may be better off sowing longer-season wheats early in April or May rather than short-season wheats in June, the Bradys have cut LongReach SpitfirePBR logo wheat from their program this year. It will be used when the seasonal break is late.

They are now aiming to finish sowing by early to mid-May rather than in the first week of June.

Wheat is usually planted at 70 to 80kg/ha, barley at 60kg/ha, canola at 2.75kg/ha, oats at 80kg/ha and lupins at 125kg/ha. James says a few more kilograms per hectare also helps to reduce the weed pressure.

Depending on seed size, the Bradys aim for 50 to 55 plants per square metre for canola and up to 200 plants/m2 for the cereals. “The extra few plants provide an opportunity for some extra biomass,” James says. “The extra cost of a few kilograms per hectare is minimal and it allows us to graze paddocks seven to 10 days earlier.”

The remaining 270ha of pastured land was set aside for a mix of lucerne, fescue and subterranean clover. James says the sheep perform better on a mix of grass and legumes and tend to have fewer issues with ‘red-gut’.

James says the tight integration of cropping and grazing has produced pleasing results so far, with 2012 the only year the ungrazed crops have out-yielded the grazed crops, mainly due to a dry August and September.

“Most years the grazed crops yield better,” he says. “In wet years they tend to tiller out more, and in dry years the grazed crops don’t use as much soil water in winter, which usually means more moisture is available in the soil profile in spring for grain fill.”

For season 2012, the wheat that was locked up early yielded up to 3.8 tonnes/ha, while the paddocks locked up later yielded 3.2t/ha. Overall, the wheat yielded 4t/ha on average, which included the ungrazed LongReach SpitfirePBR logo and EGA GregoryPBR logo wheats.

The HindmarshPBR logo barley, which was sown early in 2012 and then grazed 10 to 14 days longer than usual, to about 1200kg dry matter/ha or four to six centimetres tall, yielded 3t/ha on average.

The oats, set back by an infestation of barley yellow dwarf virus because seed was not treated before sowing, yielded 2.5t/ha on average, while the canola yielded 1.9t/ha on average because of some heavy frost in spring that James says was quite noticeable in the lower-lying areas of paddocks.

SNAPSHOT

Owners: James, Pip, James and Bianca Brady
Location: Eurongilly, New South Wales
Farm size: 1024 hectares
Rainfall: (average annual) 575 millimetres; (April to October) 355mm
Soil types: red-brown earth and grey loam
Soil pH: (CaCl2) 5.3
Typical crop rotation: wheat/canola/wheat/barley/ canola/wheat/lupins and perennial pasture phase/canola/wheat/barley/lupins/wheat/canola/ wheat/wheat undersown with lucerne/subclover
Enterprises: cropping and sheep

Winter pasture

Another advantage of allowing sheep to graze cereal and canola crops is to give the pastures a break from grazing during winter, enabling a much-needed feed wedge to build, which is important, especially for newly sown pastures going into spring.

James estimates a seven to eight-week break from grazing allows the lucerne, fescue and subclover pasture to accumulate an extra 2t/ha dry matter.

“If the spring is dry we will usually have enough feed for our sheep, otherwise a wet spring may provide an opportunity to make lucerne hay,” he says.

Broadleaf weeds are usually controlled through grazing pressure, Khaki weed and Bathurst burrs are the only ongoing concern, apart from a few small isolated patches of wild radish, ryegrass and fleabane, which are being managed with TT canola and various herbicides.

Aside from declining margins, James identifies time management as a constant challenge. “There’s more benefits to be gained by doing things on time, rather than trying to do everything yourself and doing it 10 to 14 days late,” he says.

Consequently, James hopes to investigate the allocation of contract labour more thoroughly in a bid to see if it can allow the family to capture more fully the benefits of any excess rainfall.

While James’s off-farm job means he is only available to work on the farm after-hours, on weekends and during holidays, he sees his role as an agronomist with Seed Force as complementary to the farm business.

One advantage provided by his off-farm work is the front-row seat it has given the family to see how new crops and varieties perform through their hosting of an extensive trials program of crops and pastures on behalf of Seed Force.

“Seeing how crops and pastures perform in small-plot trials has certainly given us more confidence to trial new cultivars over 20 to 40ha to see how they might fit into our enterprise,” James says. 

More information:

James Brady
0447 565 457
jamesbrady@seedforce.com

Next: Frost research intensifies
Previous:
 Relay-cropping extends cropping window

Region South, North