Pulse numbers add up for Lockhart grower

Photo of a man in a hat

NSW grower Neil Schirmer from Lockhart is applying manure to field peas for the first time this year to help control problem patches of resistant ryegrass.

PHOTO: Deanna Lush

New South Wales grain grower Neil Schirmer, from Lockhart, has been growing pulses for 30 years and plans to brown manure field peas for the first time this year to help control patches of resistant ryegrass.

Neil, who farms 766 hectares of mostly well-drained red loams north-east of Lockhart with his wife Margaret, says pulses have been profitable for his business. The Schirmers’ gross margins for albus lupins have averaged $345/ha in the past 15 years, while wheat following a pulse crop has averaged $400/ha, plus $150/ha in fertiliser cost savings due to the soil nitrogen fixed by pulses.

Nearly three years ago, Neil made the switch from mixed farming to no-till continuous cropping on his property, which receives 450 millimetres of annual average rainfall.

He grows pulses because they fix organic soil nitrogen, improve soil structure and health, provide a disease break for cereals, help spread sowing and harvest windows, and use unavailable phosphorus. 

Neil’s tips for growers considering pulses include:

  • commitment and attention to detail ensure a productive and healthy crop;
  • plan a sound, robust rotation by considering weed pressure, paddock history and crop balance, and the percentage of break and cereal crops;
  • match the pulse crop to soil type; and
  • invest time in developing a marketing strategy and maintaining key contacts.

However, he says there are also drawbacks to growing pulses. These disadvantages include: the need to plan at least two or three years ahead; pulses can be poor competitors against weeds; a lack of chemical options for total weed control; and pulses must be inoculated with the correct strain of rhizobia, regardless of paddock history.

“When it comes to marketing, you may sometimes need to store grain for lengthy periods because of a lack of delivery points, and with limited export markets, domestic options can easily become saturated,” he says.

Rotation net margins

Rotation net margins for the Schirmers’ property at Lockhart, NSW, including full machinery costs:

  • albus lupins, 1998–2012, $345/ha;
  • faba beans, 2012, $245/ha (poor crop);
  • canola following pasture, 1998–2012, $204/ha;
  • canola following wheat, 1998–2012, $327/ha;
  • wheat following canola, 1994–2012, $437/ha;
  • wheat following pulse, 1994–2012, $400/ha; and
  • wheat following wheat, 1994–2012, $301/ha.

Add about $150/ha for nitrogen fixation for lupins and faba beans.

Neil trialled brown manuring of arrowleaf clover in 2012 to help control areas of resistant ryegrass on 320ha of country that he has continuously cropped for the past 16 years.

He is hoping for 7 to 8t/ha of dry matter, depending on rainfall, which equates to between 150 and 160 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare, working on 20kg/t of dry matter.

Neil plans to use a knockdown spray in spring, followed by a double-knock of paraquat two to three weeks later.

The number of summer sprays required depends on conserved moisture and summer rain, he says.

“It’s not a cheap exercise, this is the first year I’ve done it and it will probably set me back about $250/ha, but I’m hoping to make that up over the next year or two,” he says.

“The short-term cost of sprays for brown manuring are outweighed by the benefits of extra nitrogen, moisture conservation and weed control. 

“It will be followed up with a canola crop to provide a double herbicide break.

“I started with narrow-leaf lupins and switched to albus lupins in 1997 and have been growing them continuously since then. They’ve been one of my most profitable crops year in, year out.”

End of Ground Cover Issue #105 Southern edition.

Read the accompanying Ground Cover Supplement: Spray Application

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