Intensive cropping to create grazing food bowl
Always looking to ‘push the system’, Rob Terry has stepped-up his cropping to support an increased agistment program for his neighbours.
Tasmania grain grower Rob Terry plants his barley later than most. It is usually a winter crop planted in April or May, but the cold winter means he holds off until September or even October, with harvest in late February or early March.
For Rob and wife his Veronica, who farm near Deloraine, the late-sown barley is part of a change over the past three years from a traditional mixed-cropping system to a more intensive fodder-based enterprise.
Surrounded by dairy farms, they are developing the property as a ‘food bowl’ for their neighbours. In 2013, they managed to provide 10,600 DSE (dry sheep equivalents) from 120 hectares during winter with a combination of fodder crops, stubbles, clover pasture and some supplementary oats.
This included 1000 dairy cows agisted for six to 10 weeks and 600 trade lambs. They grow-out 1200 trade lambs a year under contract for Landmark (300 lambs for three months at a time). Their plan is to build the stocking capacity to agist 2200 cows during winter, in addition to the sheep.
Rob and Veronica ran their own flock of prime lambs until about three years ago, when Rob made the decision to focus on cropping and agistment of other growers’ stock: “It means I don’t have my capital tied up in livestock and allows me to increase my contracting business,” he says. “And I don’t have shearing; that’s a big plus.”
This year will be the first full year of operation under their new high-intensity cropping and livestock regime “We harvested barley in February and within 72 hours we had baled and removed the stubble, drilled a crop of rape and set the irrigation going. I’m pleased we were able to do the turnaround so quickly.”
Rob plants up to 80 hectares of brassica fodder crops such as kale or rape, which are grazed. Any area not sown within the brassica planting window is then sown to oats, also for grazing.
Dual-purpose wheats such as Einstein and SQP Revenue are planted in March. The 2013 wheat crops were grazed three times, and Rob says the final yields were disappointing – 6t/ha for Einstein and 5t/ha for SQP Revenue, rather than the 10t/ha he had been hoping for. He says a fungal disease and wet weather, which prevented the application of fungicides, were the main reasons for the lower yields.
In 2014, he has planted only Einstein, for which stock have shown a preference. Irrigation has helped the early establishment of winter crops. Rob and Veronica have an annual allocation of up to 600 megalitres and 80 per cent of the property can be irrigated with a combination of centre pivots and soft hose guns.
In spring, the Terrys plant onions for Field Fresh Tasmania, potatoes in a joint venture with McCain and Scolyer Brothers, and canola seed crops for Pioneer. In September or October, they will plant 50ha of barley, which follows the brassica fodder crops, and an additional oat crop for hay.
Rob says planting barley in September or October means the yield potential is lower, “but over the full year, the overall returns make up for it”. In 2013, he was aiming for yields of 6t/ha of feed-grade barley, and with an increased nitrogen regime – from 50 to 250 kilograms/ha – his crops produced 7 to 8t/ha, even with the shorter growing period. In 2014, his barley produced an average of 7.5t/ha with the best performing crop yielding 9t/ha.
Overall, fertiliser use has increased as a result of the double cropping and also with an increased focus on higher yields from barley crops. Rob applies 100kg/ha of diammonium phosphate (DAP) at sowing for the fodder crops and 100kg/ha of urea for cereals. The spring-sown barley crops also receive 100kg/ha of DAP in addition to the 250kg/ha of urea.
Most of the autumn crops are direct drilled using a tyne seeder. The spring crops are sown with a combined ripper/power cultivator/airseeder.
“Over the past 10 years, we have been reducing the amount of cultivation and the soil is now at the point where it can handle the stock numbers without too much compaction,” Rob says. His sprayer equipment, header and seeder all run on three-metre tracks, although his track-tractor is not quite 3m wide.
The couple also run a contract spraying and harvesting business in addition to the farm. “It means we can run bigger gear and be more timely here on our own property,” he says. The Terrys harvest 500ha on contract and spray 5000ha.
The property was originally swampland, which was drained for cropping in the 1950s. To prevent waterlogging, the whole property has an agpipe underground drainage network. Every three years, the drainage is renovated; a mole plough is used to recreate lines through the clay subsoil at right angles to the pipes, helping to direct excess water into the agpipes.
Pests and disease
A combination of Roundup® and Boxer Gold® are used as pre-emergent herbicides for cereal crops, and Roundup®/Stomp® as a pre-emergent combination for fodder crops.
Rob says there are no major disease issues for his crops and the most problematic pests in recent years have been slugs.
However, livestock have helped to significantly reduce the slug burden. “In the past we’ve had to run three boxes at planting: seed, fertiliser and slug bait. In 2012, we applied 1.5t of slug bait across the cropping program, but in 2013 were able to reduce this to 200kg.”
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