Pushing canola boundaries in the north

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Image of Ben Cripps

Ben Cripps of Ogilvie is widening his canola row spacings to help reduce risks and cut costs – a strategy that is being further examined with GRDC funding.

PHOTO: James Tolmie, Cox Inall Communications

The Cripps family at Ogilvie is part of a new movement in the northern agricultural region pushing canola row spacings wider to reduce risks and cut costs.

Ben Cripps, who farms with his wife Angela and parents Terry and Ros, planted this year’s 730-hectare hybrid Roundup Ready® (RR) and open-pollinated (OP) triazine-tolerant (TT) canola program on 60-centimetre spacings.

This shift was driven by previous success in growing lupins on wider row spacings and for risk mitigation in the canola phase, which is now the family’s break crop of choice.

The Cripps are participating in local GRDC-funded trials run by the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA), and the Northern Agri Group investigating the impact of seeding rates and wide row spacings.

Ben says 2014 trials on their property found that using low seeding rates of 1.5 kilograms/ha at 60cm spacing produced marginally higher yields – about 80kg/ha – than using seeding rates of 3kg/ha at 30cm spacings.

Snapshot

Owners: Terry, Ros, Ben and Angela Cripps
Location: Ogilvie and Binnu
Farm size: 4300 hectares
Enterprises: cropping
Average annual rainfall: 250 to 300 millimetres
Soil types: yellow sandplain, gravel and red loam
2015 crop program: 2400ha wheat, 730ha canola, 860ha lupins, 195ha barley and 95ha oats 

 

He says lifting the seeding rate suppressed yields in both the narrow and wide rows, especially in the OP variety and in dry conditions where plants in the narrow rows got stressed earlier and harder.

“We found the highest-yielding combination in our two years of trials was wide rows with low seeding rates,” he says.

“We saw that for every 0.5kg/ha drop in seeding rate – from 3kg/ha to 1.5kg/ha – on the wide rows, there was about a 100kg/ha improvement in crop yield.

“The wide row seems to help with water harvesting at the start of the season and, by reducing the seeding rate, you increase that efficiency again.”

DAFWA’s small-plot trials and two other grower trials in the northern agricultural region in 2014 also found canola yields from wider row spacings were similar to yields where narrow row spacings were used (at all but one site).

DAFWA research officer Martin Harries says yield results across all the trials were good enough to suggest local growers could consider wider rows as a viable option.

He told delegates at the Agribusiness Crop Updates in February that shifting from 30 to 60cm spacings for canola in the northern agricultural region had potential to reduce seed, fertiliser and fuel costs at seeding and make stubble handling easier.

“We have measured the amount of water in the soil and, clearly, wider rows conserve moisture until later in the growing season and can help to drought-proof crops and reduce overall risks,” he says.

“When placing fertiliser only in the wide rows, the concentration around the seedlings is higher so we may be able to drop compound fertiliser rates and reduce upfront costs.

“Another potential advantage is better airflow and fungicide efficacy when dealing with diseases such as sclerotinia.”

Mr Harries advises against dropping seeding rates in wide rows lower than 1 to 1.5kg/ha due to the potential for poor crop emergence and lower yields.

This year, the Cripps sowed their canola at 60cm row spacing using seeding rates of 1.5 to 3kg/ha (depending on soil types) with an airseeder cart fitted with an extra-fine roller and dual shutes.

Ben says their precision airseeder bar has the ability to keep every second tyne out of the ground and every second hose is blocked off.

“We aim to establish 15 to 20 plants per square metre, as we would rather have 10 healthy plants than 30 trying to outcompete each other,” he says.

“It buys us 15 to 20 days after emergence before the crop starts to suffer if there is a dry spell.”

Ben concedes this strategy might limit top-end production in good seasons, but says the aim is to produce a consistent crop yield of 0.9 to 1.2t/ha every year and contain upfront risks.

“If we can save up to $70/ha using wide rows before the season even starts – through less seed, less fuel and less compound fertiliser – we can produce 200kg/ha less canola to break even,” he says.

“It’s not about growing the best yield every year, but producing the best margin.”

Ben says wider canola rows and lower seeding rates can also be beneficial for weed management, especially on heavier sandplain areas.

He says a more open canopy provides better access to weeds, which can be knocked out before the canopy closes – and less tillage results in less weed stimulation on the edge of the furrows.

This year, as part of the GRDC-funded ‘Tactical break crop agronomy in Western Australia’ project, DAFWA is continuing to investigate the best agronomy package for canola wide rows. There are also trials to assess whether wide row spacing is viable for canola crops in southern wheatbelt areas.

More information:

Ben Cripps
0427 772 755

bangewepowie@bigpond.com

Martin Harries
08 9956 8553
martin.harries@agric.wa.gov.au

Watch a video on the Cripps pushing canola boundaries in the north.


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GRDC Project Code DAW00227

Region West