Quality and market outlook dominate harvest thinking

Grain quality, marketing and delivery are top of mind for Australian growers as they head into the harvest period for winter crops after weathering a spate of frosts and dry conditions in many parts of the country. This is the fifth 2012 instalment of the Ground Cover series following a group of growers as they manage the season.

Colin and Libby Hutchinson farm at Tammin in Western Australia’s central wheatbelt, 184 kilometres east of Perth. They crop wheat, barley and canola.

Our crops are moisture-stressed following below-average rain, and another two frosts caused some flowers to abort in our late-sown crops, reducing yield potential. But the early-sown wheat looks good. The dry conditions have seen low weed pressure across our property, so we’ve only sprayed fallow areas to control weeds. We’ve sprayed the canola for aphids and budworm, and we decided not to topdress nitrogen after 30 kilograms per hectare of granular urea was applied at seeding. We’ve started harvesting the canola, which will be followed by barley and wheat. We’ve been maintaining the header and field storage bins, and marketing is a major priority.

Crosby Lyne farms with his wife Poppy, sons Angus and Sam, and daughter-in-law Chloe at Campbell Town in central Tasmania, about 67km south-east of Launceston. They crop poppies, barley, wheat, lupins and canola, and run 4500 Merino sheep.

We haven’t had a lot of rain, but enough to incorporate urea in the cereals and canola. The barley, wheat, canola and poppies look good, but the lupins will need another spray due to a flush of grass weeds. We’ve been irrigating the poppies as they emerge, and the new centre pivot areas have been working well, apart from a few minor problems. We’ve had to re-sow 30ha of poppies affected by wind damage. We’ve started marking lambs and preparing to spray fungicides on the poppies and cereals. Monitoring crops for nutrient deficiencies and moisture requirements before windrowing the canola is next on the agenda. We plan to start harvesting the rest of our crops close to Christmas.

Two people standing in front of a ute on a farm

Alison and Neil Westcott on-farm at Alectown in
Central West New South Wales.

Neil Westcott, his wife Alison, his parents Cliff and Helen, and his uncle Malcolm farm at Alectown in Central West NSW, 100km south of Dubbo. They crop canola, wheat and barley.

Unusually dry conditions have seen moisture stress in all our crops, but the canola is particularly affected. Record frosts aborted some flowering in the canola and the dry weather has slowed overall crop development. But the seasonal conditions have mostly resulted in low pressure from diseases and weeds. We’ve only sprayed two paddocks to control ryegrass and sprayed the canola to control aphids. We’re preparing to start harvesting earlier this season due to the dry weather. We’re concentrating on yield estimates for insurance purposes, machinery maintenance and spraying fencelines.

Ian and Cathie Hastings farm with their son Mike and daughter-in-law Megan about 13km south-west of Ouyen in Victoria’s Mallee. They crop wheat, barley, canola and lupins, and are trialling 40ha of chickpeas as another legume option in their rotation.

We haven’t had much rain, and windy conditions have made spraying difficult and drawn moisture from our crops. The cereals and chickpeas look good, but cold weather has slowed growth in the canola and lupins. We’ve only topdressed the wheat with liquid nitrogen due to the dry weather. Our spraying program and rotations have seen low pressure from pests and diseases across our paddocks, but we’re planning to desiccate or crop-top areas of the lupins to control broadleaf weeds. The mouse activity we noted on some parts of the farm at sowing has dropped off without baiting. We’ve started harvesting the barley, with canola, lupins, chickpeas and wheat to follow. The 12th Ouyen Farm Safety Expo we hosted was a great success in helping to improve on-farm safety awareness among children. We’re preparing our equipment to start spraying during harvest.

Adam Morgan farms with his wife Tanja, brother Daniel and parents David and Pam at Geranium in South Australia’s Mallee region, about 94km south-east of Murray Bridge. They crop wheat, canola, barley and triticale, and produce oaten, barley and triticale hay.

We haven’t had much rain lately, which saw us lose yield potential across half of our crops, but the early-sown wheat, canola and barley look good. The dry conditions mean we haven’t had much pressure from weeds, pests and diseases, so we’ve only sprayed the cereals once for broadleaf weeds. We’ve finished cutting and baling the hay crops, starting with barley, then vetch and oats. Hay quality was mostly good, but the quantity was variable, particularly in the oats, which prefer wetter conditions. Maintenance on the header was a major focus before we started canola windrowing and harvesting the barley and wheat. Delivering grain into the bulk handling system and domestic hay sales are next on our to-do list.

Brian and Val Gregg farm 35km east of Dysart in Central Queensland with their son Nigel and daughter-in-law Sue-Ann. They crop sorghum, chickpeas, maize, mungbeans and wheat.

Low rainfall, frosts and hot weather reduced yield potential in the wheat and chickpeas that we’ve finished harvesting. In particular, frost damage downgraded our Australian Prime Hard wheat to feed quality. A week of temperatures close to 40ºC also reduced quality in the chickpeas. We sprayed our chickpeas for Helicoverpa caterpillar and used a double-knock application to control weeds on fallow country. We’ve forward-sold all our crops, except for the wheat that we’ve recently sold to a local feedlot. The sorghum we planted as an opportunity crop has germinated well. Maintenance on the header, weed control and planting sorghum are major areas of focus.

Next: Changing weather in the western wheatbelt

Region National, South, West, North