New winter cereals top the R&D wish list

Map graphic showing where growers live for the 2015 Ground Cover Growers Series

Each year, Ground Cover follows a group of growers from across Australia. It is a chance to observe modern growers at work as they plan and adjust to a season’s challenges and opportunities. In this first instalment in the 2015 series, we introduce the year’s participants

Grower and agronomist Chris Crouch and wife Iris farm with Chris’s parents Graeme and
Cathy at Wandearah in South Australia’s mid-north. They crop wheat, barley, field peas, chickpeas, lentils, oaten hay and vetch as a brown manure crop, and run an opportunity cattle feedlot (500-head capacity). They also agist cattle in the APY Lands (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) in the north-west of the state.

Average annual rainfall: 330 millimetres
Farm size: 1300 hectares
Use of professional advice: accountant, agronomist
Memberships: Crop Science Society of SA, South Australian No-Till Farmers Association, Agricultural Bureau of South Australia and Upper North Farming Systems
Key recent changes: I returned to full-time farming just before Christmas after six years working as an agronomist on the Northern Yorke Peninsula.

In 2014, we moved to a real-time kinematic two-centimetre guidance system for inter-row sowing and updated our sprayer for increased efficiency.

We also upgraded the milling equipment to speed up mixing feed for the cattle.


  • move a shed and silos to centralise infrastructure on the main farm;
  • increase the area sown to lentils and try larger-seeded chickpeas;
  • upgrade the cattle yards next to the feedlot; and
  • increase the cattle numbers agisted in the north.

Challenges and opportunities:

A challenge is expanding our holdings with land. Lease prices are very high.

Our main weed challenges are brome grass, annual ryegrass, and patches of creeping knapweed and silverleaf nightshade.

Opportunities exist to grow more profitable break crops. In the past, we have grown mostly field peas and, more recently, chickpeas.

As well as increasing the area of lentils we are going to try growing larger-seeded chickpeas (PBA Monarch) to potentially increase the grain price we receive (we are currently growing GenesisTM 079).

R&D wish list:

  • Improving the productivity of sand hills, more accurate seasonal forecasting and better-adapted winter wheat varieties.

Nathan and Emily Simpson and their children Frankie and Diesel farm at Gollan in central-west New South Wales. With parents Ross and Michele, and brother Kieran and his fiancée Elly, they grow wheat, barley, canola and linseed, trade store lambs and finish them on lucerne-based pastures.

Average annual rainfall: 550 millimetres
Farm size: 3300 hectares
Use of professional advice: agronomist, accountant, business coaching from PrincipleFocus, Dubbo, NSW
Memberships: Grain Orana Alliance, NSW Farmers Association
Key recent changes: We have made several changes to manage our herbicide-resistant annual ryegrass problem, specifically implementing harvest weed-seed management, which is still fairly new in the eastern states.

We are in our second year of windrow burning and we plan to use a chaff cart for the 2015 season. We also bought a haymaking plant in 2014 to provide additional mechanical control of the ryegrass.


  • have a chaff cart ready to go before the 2015 harvest and increase the percentage of kill we can get on ryegrass seed after harvest;
  • build sheep yards in a central location at the junction of four laneways to assist with livestock logistics;
  • if we have a full moisture profile, we will do 500ha of EM38 surveys with a view to moving towards variable rate fertiliser and lime applications; and
  • we will spread 520 tonnes of lime in a rotation this year. We would like to increase the percentage of area covered with lime in each year, along with strategic tillage and deep-ripping.

Challenges and opportunities:

Herbicide resistance is a big challenge. We have a problem with resistant annual ryegrass and a smaller issue with wild oats in one paddock.

I’d like to get our soils to a point where they are more water efficient. Our lime program is working towards this, by neutralising the acidity in the soil and reducing aluminium toxicity, which causes root pruning.

We also want to keep on top of input costs – using EM38 with a view to variable-rate fertiliser application down the track.

R&D wish list:

  • I’d like to see better grazing winter wheat varieties (currently there are no better options than EGA Wedgetail) and a better disease package for grazing barley. Barley produces the most biomass and recovers best from grazing, but there are no varieties that don’t get hammered by fungal diseases.
  • So I’d like to see the results of R&D into new winter cereal varieties, as well as more strategies and technologies that we can use to tackle herbicide resistance, which is continually evolving.

Bradley and Denise Millsteed farm at Watheroo, halfway between Perth and Geraldton in Western Australia. With parents Jeff and Tina, uncle and aunt Brent and Jan, cousin Adam and his wife Karina, they crop wheat, barley, canola, lupins and wheaten hay. They also run a self-replacing Merino flock of 1700 ewes and 50 Poll Hereford breeders.

Image of a man in a paddock

Bradley Millsteed soil sampling on his Watheroo, Western Australia, property.

PHOTO: Evan Collis

Average annual rainfall: 345 millimetres
Farm size: 3600 hectares
Use of professional advice: agronomist, accountant, fertiliser company representative
Key recent changes: We are tackling non-wetting soils, trialling spading, claying and deeper deep-ripping than traditional depths with a Grizzly deep digger.

We are blending copper into all our nitrogen-based fertiliser compounds. Traditionally the soils around Watheroo have been slightly copper-deficient, so we are trying to maintain healthy micronutrient levels.


  • re-establish our legume pastures;
  • fence an area of deep sand to try to establish some perennials;
  • further trials with the Grizzly deep digger and try some more spading;
  • decrease our input costs;
  • introduce some Bass malting barley into the rotation; and
  • improve grass weed control in our lupin phase.

Challenges and opportunities:

Climate variability, non-wetting soils and operational costs are ongoing challenges. We are looking to build in more flexibility and reduce our operational costs in farm freight.

R&D wish list:

  • Better, more accurate models for water use efficiency.
  • Improved extension of all R&D and more emphasis put on growers developing their people and business management skills.

Neale and Trevor Postlethwaite farm at Gooroc, in the Victorian Wimmera. With their families they run a 100 per cent cropping operation, growing wheat, barley, chickpeas, faba beans, lupins and canola. They also run a machinery fabrication business, TPOS Fabrications, building customised machinery such as shielded sprayers, grain shifters and mother bins, and also rebuilding damaged header fronts.

Average annual rainfall: 400 millimetres
Farm size: 2200 hectares
Use of professional advice: agronomist, accountant, chemical reseller agronomist
Memberships: SPAA (Neale is president), BCG, Victorian No-Till Farmers Association
Key recent changes: We have been no-till for 32 years and in 2001 changed to controlled-traffic farming (CTF) on an 11-metre width with two-centimetre autosteer.

In 2014, we changed to a 12m width, which required replacements and modification to all our existing machinery.

This was prompted by the construction of the Wimmera–Mallee pipeline: we gained an extra four to five hectares in each paddock when our channels were filled in.

In one paddock there’s now 145 fewer turns, with run lines amalgamated into longer straight swaths to improve our efficiency. With 12m now a standard CTF width, it was the right time to make the change.

We moved to variable-rate (VR) sowing in 2014 and I have taken over the spraying since my father Allen semi-retired.

Trevor, with an engineering background, manages the workshop; much of the farm equipment we use is built in-house. When we started CTF most of the gear was not available.


  • set up a proper VR program with our fertiliser strategy to reduce fertiliser expenditure;
  • we will do some wheel track renovations this year using a radically different prototype renovator we are developing ourselves; and
  • try to make the most of the season with a limited soil water starting point.

Challenges and opportunities:

Our challenge is trying to manage a cropping program with a very limited budget and to choose both crop type and weed-control measures and options that are most cost-effective for this season.

Another will be getting the machinery configured to run on the 12m; we are still making some modifications to the seeder and chaser bin for this season.

Another big challenge is lack of broadband internet in our area. When trying to use new technology such as GPS a lot of ‘big data’ is generated and we are unable to process or use this in real time due to limited bandwidth.

As for opportunities, we’ve been hiring a harvester from a grower near Ballarat, and when we finish we take our header down and help with his harvest.

The header does the same number of hours but the risk is spread and the crops come off quicker.

We are also doing remote sensing in our crops, with a nitrogen sensor fixed permanently on the boom sprayer to keep an eye on crop growth throughout the year.

We use this to tailor our fertiliser strategy and I want to develop this further.

R&D wish list:

R&D in the past 10 years has focused on drought tolerance and there are fewer tillers on the newer varieties in the quest for yield, so newer varieties of wheat don’t produce much stubble and therefore don’t reduce evaporation as effectively.

Looking back, our barley yields have increased but our wheat yields have decreased, so I think the research is missing the target with wheat.

It could be ‘pie in the sky’, but I’d also like to see better weather forecasting models.

Damen Maddock, wife Ellen and son Charles farm with Damen’s parents Reg and Di at Bonnie Rock in Western Australia’s central wheatbelt. They crop wheat, barley and lupins and run 2400 breeding ewes.

Average annual rainfall: 250 millimetres (10-year average)
Farm size: 8500 hectares plus a further 1000ha leased
Use of professional advice: financial consultant
Key recent changes: We just bought a 12.2-metre Bourgault 3320 airseeder to start us on the path towards controlled-traffic farming (CTF).


  • I’d really like to take a big step forward on our CTF journey, with some study and visiting other farms;
  • if we have a good year, we would like to have the new airseeder set up, a spreader and another tractor;
  • I’d like to run a few less sheep, because we are heading towards CTF; and
  • we’re really just looking for an average rainfall year. The past two to three years have been really disappointing.

Challenges and opportunities:

The newer varieties are not performing as well as expected in the drier years.

We’re paying $4 to $5 per tonne in plant breeders’ rights compared with about $1/t for the older varieties, so they really have to yield.

Rainfall is our biggest challenge by far. If we can have average rainfall the upside is enormous.

Our inputs are low but in a good year it’s amazing how much wheat we can grow.

R&D wish list:

  • An acid-tolerant wheat variety – the eastern wheatbelt could really use that. If we could have that we wouldn’t have to be spreading lime, and in bad years we don’t have the money to spread it. We’re a long way from the lime pits here.

Mitch Faint farms with his father Ross at Clermont in Central Queensland. They grow sorghum and chickpeas and run 700 Charbray cattle for the JapOx market.

Average annual rainfall: 600 millimetres
Farm size: 3500 hectares
Use of professional advice: agronomist, accountant
Memberships: AgForce
Key recent changes: We have changed to a Boss TX45 parallelogram, zero-till planter for more precise seed-depth control, less soil disturbance and to get through the stubble better.

We also upgraded to a Case STX380 tractor because we wanted the three-metre centre for controlled traffic.


  • bring back another 240ha of country into grain production; and
  • finish constructing silos to drought-proof our stock.

Challenges and opportunities:

We get a fair bit of sorghum lodging and the dry finish in 2014 didn’t help. We’ve cut back on the seeding rates this time to help the plants stand up better.

We have broadleaf weed issues – parthenium is the worst – and summer grass is a problem too, although we seem to be getting on top of that.

As far as opportunities go, we had rain before Christmas and it has allowed us to plant our sorghum in stages. This staggered planting makes harvest easier to manage.

In 2014 we didn’t harvest until the end of July but with the rain we’ve had, this year we will be able to start harvesting in June.

R&D wish list:

  • Sorghum varieties with better resistance to lodging. We can lose 10 to 20 per cent when the crops lodge.
  • Also more information about dealing with phosphorus deficiencies in the soil would be welcome.


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Spray drift guidelines to be reviewed

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