Family power drives season 2015

New babies and conference travel on top of the usual farming operations have meant a busy start to autumn for this year’s growers. This is the second instalment of Ground Cover’s annual series following a group of growers through their management of the winter cropping season

Grower and agronomist Chris Crouch and wife Iris farm 1420 hectares 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.

A rainfall event of 35 to 60 millimetres in January meant all paddocks required spraying for summer weeds. We had 400 cattle in the feedlot over summer; however, high cattle and feed prices meant the autumn intake was reduced.

Our crop plans for this year are about one-third wheat, one-third barley and one-third break crops. We put MoravaA vetch onto about 40ha of less-fertile soil in mid-April for a brown-manure crop, then sowed oats and vetch for hay in late April and then followed on with sowing cereals.

Around late April to mid-May is the ideal time to sow our cereal, with wheat varieties of Mace and Kord CL Plus, and barley varieties of Fathom and Scope. Our pulse varieties are PBA Wharton field peas, PBA Hurricane XT and PBA Blitz lentils and GenesisTM 079 and PBA Monarch chickpeas. Ideally, we will sow our pulses from early to mid-May depending on several factors, including crop type and disease pressure.

In early March, Chris and Iris also welcomed their first child, Lottie May.

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, and trade store lambs and finish them on lucerne-based pastures.

Image of Nathan Simpson

NSW grain grower Nathan Simpson on his mixed-farming operation at Gollan.

PHOTO: Steve Cowley

We finished the summer with fair subsoil moisture, although nowhere near a full profile. We windrow burned our stubble to help control annual ryegrass in February–March. We spread and incorporated 520 tonnes of lime and deep-ripped a few paddocks that had grazing barley on them last year.

With a wet autumn, the stock had really compacted the top 10 centimetres. This year I installed a blockage monitor on the airseeder to lift sowing efficiency. Previously we’d had to jump out every 10ha to check for blockages. We sowed our grazing barley (Urambie) in March and our canola mid-April. We chose Hyola 559 TT and Victory 3002 as a high-oleic variety.

We had two years out of the high-oleic program to clean up some herbicide-resistant annual ryegrass using triazine-tolerant varieties, but it has worked well in the past so we’re bringing it back into the clean paddocks.

The opening window for EGA Gregory wheat is 1 May, but that will depend on rainfall. In mid-May I’m looking at sowing 143ha of Commander barley in a frost-prone hollow. We could cut some of this for hay as a weed-management tool, but I’ll make that call later in the season.

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.

I spent about a month in the truck over February getting all the fertiliser, gypsum and lime carted – it’s the first year we’ve carted it ourselves. It’s extra work but we’ve been able to put it where we want it and reduce some operating costs. We spread that gypsum and lime from February to April, and we’ve rebuilt the metering section of the airseeder box leading up to sowing.

We’ve had 45 to 80mm of rain across the farm in early April in addition to the 70mm we’ve had since February. Paddock preparation has been a focus over the past few years, removing rocks and fences and doing some burning. This year we’ve got a 1625ha cropping program: 400ha of Coromup lupins, 950ha of MaceA wheat, 150ha of ATR-Stingray TT canola, and 125ha of Bass barley. We also sowed 100ha of Dalkeith clover around Anzac Day (25 April).

During March, I attended a two-day workshop in Adelaide as part of the GRDC-funded Resilient Grain Leaders program I have been a part of for the past 12 months.

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 rebuild damaged header fronts.

Apart from summer weed control, field days and finalising our cropping plans, I attended the precision agriculture conference in Brisbane for the Society of Precision Agriculture Australia.

We have also been finishing some design work on a wheel-track renovator we’ve developed, which is now patented and ready for commercial release.

We have taken canola out of our cropping program this year because we’ve got no soil water. It’s a more expensive crop to grow, so we didn’t want to take the risk and we’ve increased the legume area with more faba beans.

We started sowing on 15 April. This year, we’re growing Hindmarsh and Scope (Clearfield) barley, and LongReach Scout and Elmore CL Plus (Clearfield) wheat. We’re going with Elmore CL Plus because we have some paddocks where there was Clearfield chemistry in 2014 and we haven’t had enough rainfall to clear it out. We’re also growing desi chickpeas. PBA Slasher has been the better-yielding desi variety for a while now but there are a couple of new varieties I may try from the field days I’ve attended.

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

Due to decent rain in March, we had to put crutching back – most people in the wheatbelt were sitting on tractors. We pre-furrowed about 1000ha, all 2014 pasture paddocks, to take advantage of any further moisture, and in March–April we sprayed about 7000ha because the rain brought the weeds up. I’m not complaining though. Normally we have a much earlier summer rain and it costs a lot more to protect that moisture – sometimes two sprays are needed.

I picked up a small deep-ripper in March after seeing the responses they got in 2014 in the north of the state. I’m running a few trials, using it to incorporate lime and gypsum, as well as noting the response we get from deep-ripping alone. We spread sulfate of ammonia at the start of April for nitrogen.

We have converted our airseed box to three-metre centres and started seeding Mandelup lupins around 20 April. We’re currently in the middle of sowing our wheat (Yitpi) and barley (Scope).

Ross Faint and son Mitch farm at Clermont in Central Queensland. They grow sorghum and chickpeas and run 700 Charbray cattle for the Japox market.

We finished planting 650ha of sorghum (MR43 and Taurus) in mid-February. It was a hot February–March period and the plants were looking stressed, but it will still be a reasonable crop without rain. We had good soil moisture but our soils aren’t terribly deep, so of course in-crop rain is always welcome.

We’ll be looking to harvest this in June–July but if we get a hot finish it will be an earlier harvest. I’ve done a bit of spot spraying for grasshoppers and I’m keeping an eye on heliothis, which can do some serious damage to the sorghum. We also sold some heifers in March for a good price.

Mitch has been working up in the Gulf but came back to help with some fencing and is back now again for chickpea planting, which is underway.

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