Legumes to pump prime wheat performance

Image of a farmer in a wheat field

Peter Unger says his family’s EGA Gregory wheat (pictured) yielded 3.4 tonnes per hectare on average last year at their farm near Alectown in central New South Wales.

PHOTO: Nicole Baxter

Peter Unger and his family will expand their legume plantings this year as a tactic designed specifically to lift wheat yields.

The move follows a disappointing result for their 2014 wheat. A clue to why yields were so low was that the best-performing varieties were those given extra urea.

Peter crops 2711 hectares with his wife Toni, father Ian and worker Eric near Alectown in central New South Wales.

After harvesting 2.3 tonnes per hectare of canola, he expected the wheat to yield 4.0 to 4.5t/ha. Instead it delivered a disappointing 3t/ha average, despite 240 millimetres of growing-season rain.

Suntop was one of their better-performing varieties and it was given an extra 40 kilograms/ha of urea: “We’ll give Suntop another go this year,” Peter says.

The EGA Gregory wheat (pictured) yielded 3.4t/ha on average, but only made the Australian Premium White grade. Due to his 2014 experience, Peter is planning to increase the area sown to lupins to pump in more nitrogen and increase organic matter, especially in paddocks that have been direct-drilled for 15 years without a legume.

To prepare the paddock for sowing in 2014, weeds were knocked down twice with glyphosate during summer, then Treflan® was applied immediately before the EGA Gregory seed was sown, at 50kg/ha, into a moist seedbed on 8 May.

Monoammonium phosphate (80kg/ha) and urea (60kg/ha) were applied at sowing. No additional nitrogen was added after planting because the paddock was judged to have sufficient nitrogen in the soil after the previous lupin crop.

Grass and broadleaf weeds were controlled and the crop did not appear to suffer any frosting, although Peter did notice a small amount of crown rot.

“There’s talk that maybe we need two years of break crops,” he says. “And this year was a sucker for crown rot, particularly in the EGA Gregory wheat.

“Two of the three paddocks we sowed to lupins last year performed well, but I think Sclerotinia may have taken hold in the third paddock, which looked the best but performed the worst.”

The Ungers also run a second property dedicated to sheep, but the lease expires in September. If the sheep have to return to their home property, Peter says a lucerne/clover mix will be undersown as a feed source. They also plan to trial LongReach Lancer as a potential replacement for EGA Gregory to minimise having to deal with heavy stubbles at sowing.

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