Dry trend prompts move to discs

Key points

  • Disc seeder purchased to maximise
    water infiltration
  • Weed management changed to beat
    grass weeds
  • Faba beans trialled as a double weed break
  • Sheep being phased out in favour of continuous crops 

The Pattison family aims to run a sustainable cropping enterprise by retaining stubble and diversifying their crop mix on their southern New South Wales property

Photo of two men

John and Brendan Pattison switched to disc seeding in 2009 to conserve moisture on their farm near Marrar, New South Wales.

PHOTO: Nicole Baxter

With lower-than-average spring rainfall in 2014, moisture management remains the biggest challenge for John Pattison and his family who crop 1200 hectares near Marrar in southern New South Wales.

To conserve moisture, John and his son Brendan switched to a disc-seeding system in 2009 after a FarmLink Research trial on a property at Illabo, NSW, showed a 200-kilogram/ha yield advantage over tynes in dry seasonal conditions.

John says the yield advantage was too large to ignore, equating to an extra 200 tonnes over 1000ha, or $50,000 at a wheat price of $250/t.

“The big thing we learnt during the drought was that ground cover is king,” John says. “Anywhere we retained stubble in those tough years, we grew our best crops.”

After initially considering John Deere and NDF disc seeders, the Pattisons bought a nine-metre single-disc Excel Stubble Warrior because they believed it would handle stubble well and allow seeding to be done efficiently, and had more reliable bearings than the John Deere and was less expensive than the NDF machine.


Growers: John, Michelle, Brendan and Felicity Pattison
Location: Marrar, New South Wales
Farm size: 1500 hectares
Annual rainfall: 536 millimetres
Soil types: red loam with quartz and
granite ridges
Soil pH: 5 to 5.6 (calcium chloride)
Enterprises: crops, prime lambs, steers
Typical crop rotation: pasture/canola/wheat/barley/canola/wheat/barley/lupins or faba beans/canola
Crops and varieties grown (2014):
EGA Gregory
, LongReach Spitfire and LongReach Lancer wheat; ATR-Gem, ATR Bonito and ATR-Stingray TT canola; Mandelup lupins; PBA Rana faba beans; Hindmarsh barley
Sowing gear: nine-metre Excel Stubble Warrior disc seeder set on 250mm row spacings
Spraying gear: 30.5m Case Patriot 3330
with 3800-litre tank
Harvesting gear: 9m Case 2377
with draper front

Aricks wheels were added to remove trash and herbicide-treated soil from the furrow to improve crop safety. The Pattisons also replaced the old rubber press wheel with cast closers to make the seeder more durable.

Seeder performance

After six years, John and Brendan are happy with the machine’s performance on wet soils. No problems have been experienced in heavy stubbles or with seed placement.

Although more maintenance is required, John explains the extra yield and increased sowing speed outweigh the maintenance downtime.

“Disc-sown crops seem slower growing than tyne-sown crops because there is no tilth underneath the seed,” he says. “But we’re harvesting water and the moisture is there for later in the growing season.”

John sees moisture conservation as important because of a clear trend over the past 10 years towards less September and October rain.

Since moving to discs, the Pattisons have moved away from using trifluralin and are instead using Sakura®, with pleasing results.

Narrow windrow burning of canola residue was tried; however, the fire escaped and burnt the entire paddock, prompting a discontinuation of this practice.

“We still have the option to burn or cultivate entire paddocks for weed management if our ryegrass numbers increase,” John says.

Growing faba beans in 2014 as a break crop before canola has allowed John and Brendan to achieve a double hit on grass weeds by using different herbicides to those used in the canola.

Frost trials

The faba beans are also slightly more frost tolerant than lupins, which John says “folded over” after a severe frost on 13 July 2014.

Several days later another frost hit causing lupins on the low country to wither and die. “We probably lost 85 per cent of the established plants in parts of paddocks,” John says.

In one paddock of lupins, sown into burnt cereal stubble, John expected to harvest 600kg/ha more than an adjacent paddock of lupins sown into retained stubble, because of frost.

In 2013, frost caused a 20 per cent yield reduction on average in canola and wheat. Although John concedes those who burnt their stubble in 2013 won out, he suspects other parts of paddocks that were not frosted would not have yielded as well without stubble.

Before buying their disc seeder, John says he and Brendan had to weigh up the possible loss from frost versus the benefits of retaining stubble, harvesting and protecting the soil from moisture loss.

Nonetheless, they are closely watching GRDC-supported CSIRO–FarmLink Research trials at the Temora Agricultural Innovation Centre investigating how to maintain profitable farming systems with retained stubble.

The trials are investigating a range of practices including burnt stubble versus retained stubble and the impact of frost on yields, and optimum crop sequences for weed control.

Weeds and pests

With the recent purchase of a 30.5m Case Patriot self-propelled sprayer, the Pattisons aim to destroy summer weeds to conserve moisture before sowing.

They take a sow-by-the-calendar approach and have been fortunate to sow in April with good emergence. Only 5ha has been re-sown where an unknown insect damaged establishing canola.

Even cutworm damage, which decimated parts of other growers’ crops where stubble was retained, was limited on the Pattisons’ farm in 2014. Only part of one canola crop sown on 25 April suffered a small amount of damage.

John says slugs are a greater risk in retained stubble systems, but he ensures crops are checked carefully. No baiting was done in 2014. “I think I have a system that’s sustainable,” he says.

In 2013, the Pattisons averaged more than 5t/ha for Hindmarsh barley, 3.6t/ha for wheat, 1.8t/ha for canola and 2t/ha for lupins.

When Ground Cover caught up with John in December, he said harvest had exceeded his expectations with 3.56t/ha on average for wheat, 2.18t/ha on average for canola and 2t/ha for faba beans.

Continuous cropping

Within the next two years, the Pattisons plan to phase sheep out of their farming system to concentrate resources on cropping.

In the past, paddocks with weed problems have been sown to grazing wheats such as EGA Wedgetail, spray fallowed in late September and grazed to finish early season lambs.

In future, John plans to use a double knock of Roundup® and Gramoxone® in spring and spray weeds in summer before sowing a crop in autumn.

“But we’ll still have the option to bring sheep in on agistment,” he says.

And what of the future? John says changing to a disc-seeding system and retaining stubble has led to healthier soils and an improved crop rotation.

“The disc-seeding system of farming takes some years before you see the benefits of soil and crop health, but I reckon I’ll hand the farm on in a better state than what it was a decade ago,” he says. “We’ve come a long way with technology, research and machinery.”

More information:

John Pattison,
0427 274 388,


Brendan Pattison,
0428 442 968,


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