Break crop study explores profitable sequencing

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Image of a canola crop

Canola is a common break crop used by some of the most profitable eastern wheatbelt growers surveyed for a GRDC–Planfarm Break Crop Economics report.

PHOTO: Cox Inall Communications

Choosing the right rotations and break crops is said to be key factors in becoming a ‘top 25 per cent’ grain producer.

A new report into the economics of break crops in the Kwinana East Port Zone has shown a range of systems can work well if applied correctly. The report also shows that optimal rotations are highly individual and flexible.

This report was commissioned by the GRDC’s Kwinana East Regional Cropping Solutions Network (RCSN), which identified a need for more information about profitable break crops suited to low-rainfall cropping enterprises.

It was conducted by Planfarm using benchmarking data from its client base, individual client gross margin analysis and discussions with successful growers in the region.

The report found – using a six-year gross-margin analysis – that the highest ranked rotation for the most profitable 25 per cent of growers surveyed was canola/wheat/barley, closely followed by pasture/wheat/canola/wheat.

Wheat/canola/wheat/fallow produced an average gross margin of $159.24 per hectare across the six-year period.

Wheat after pasture had an average gross margin of $146.35/ha; wheat on lupins or field peas produced an average gross margin of $120.10/ha; and wheat/wheat an average gross margin of $69/ha.

Planfarm director Graeme McConnell says the wheat/wheat rotation analysis might appear low compared to wheat/barley or wheat/pasture. These results should be considered by individual growers in light of their own situation.

“The report shows that farming profitability has been difficult to achieve in the eastern wheatbelt in recent years, but there are growers with a proven long-term track record of achieving above-average results,” he says.

“The optimal rotations and break crops they are using vary according to their personal preferences, past experience, attitude to risk and agronomic factors such as soil type and paddock conditions.”

Mr McConnell says the Break Crop Economics report found break crops made up between nine and 16 per cent of arable farm area and the primary break from the cereal rotation in eastern wheatbelt areas was pasture, at 25 to 30 per cent of farm area.

Other dominant break phases included chemical fallow, canola and lupins. Only two out of 34 rotations surveyed did not include any break crops.

The report found a fallow was a more profitable option in the northern part of the Kwinana East Port Zone, where growers appeared to be able to get a greater crop benefit after a fallow than those located further south and east. Average yield response in wheat following a fallow across the district was 0.15t/ha to 0.5t/ha.

Mr McConnell says, although common, canola was underused as a break crop in the eastern wheatbelt when considering its gross margin potential.

He says this reflects the risks associated with canola and difficulties in establishing this crop in some seasons.

“None of the growers surveyed used Roundup Ready® canola, given the higher cost coupled with relatively low and volatile yields,” he says.

Fertiliser use

Profitable growers surveyed used an average 8.23 units/ha of phosphorus in cereals, 7.75 units/ha in canola, 7.31 units/ha in lupins and none in fallows or pastures.

There was a wide variation in nitrogen use, from 0 to 40 units/ha in canola, and this was dictated by seasonal conditions.Mr McConnell says flexibility is vital in rotation planning because of the need to juggle weed burdens, seasonal conditions, season and price outlooks, and costs.

“Critical to achieving a low-cost, profitable structure is using the right rotation for your farm, soil type and management approach.”

During 2014, Planfarm and the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA (DAFWA) will expand the RCSN Kwinana East Break Crop Economics report initiative by incorporating a more extensive data set.

The GRDC and the WA Government are also investing $7 million over the next five years into a break crop agronomy project to boost profitability by up to 10 per cent by 2018.

It will focus on helping local growers choose and profitably manage the most appropriate break crop for their circumstances.

Part of this initiative will be further economic analysis of the on-farm impact of break crop decisions.

This will initially focus on canola – in collaboration with CSIRO – and investigate ways to reduce business risks and increase productivity and profits from growing the oilseed as a break crop.

The GRDC and DAFWA have also developed an online Crop Sequence Calculator to help growers compare crop sequence options. The calculator is based on long-term trial results and historic crop data from WA. It is available on the DAFWA website (

More information:

Graeme McConnell
0418 900 065

For a copy of the Break Crop Economics report contact Julianne Hill,
08 9726 1307


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GRDC Project Code PLN00007, DAW00227, CSP00169

Region West