Technology enthusiasts look for resilience
Ben and Randall Boughton are building a more resilient farm business by adopting the latest technology and agronomic knowledge to maximise the capacity of their crops to turn rain into grain. Ben sees new technology and research as essential ingredients for the 2200-hectare continuous-cropping business he runs with his father Randall, wife Olivia and mother Donna north of Moree in northern New South Wales.
Their Claas Lexion 760 harvester with Terra Trac is an example of the type of technology the Boughtons embrace to help generate more grain. The tracked harvester was bought to fit their three-metre controlled-traffic system. As well as helping to reduce compaction and thereby allowing plant roots to penetrate deeper into the soil for moisture, Ben says the harvester has also lowered operator fatigue when working on their dry and bumpy cracking clay soils. Randall implemented controlled-traffic farming, incorporating RTK guidance, in 2004 and says it has almost eliminated overlap on the farm and allowed them to achieve generally higher-yielding crops.
Season 2014 was a good illustration. Although Randall says it was the driest season he can recall, with 400 millimetres of rain (about two-thirds their average), they had a pleasing harvest: barley averaged 3.5 tonnes/ha, wheat 2.5t/ha and chickpeas 1.3t/ha.
A disappointment was their Suntop wheat quality, which was sold into the feed market as grade 7010 (above 70 test weight and below 10 per cent screenings). Despite this, it will be planted again because of its yield potential. To improve quality, an extra 10 kilograms/ha of urea (160kg total) was added to the soil in February.
On the agenda for the Boughton family this year is testing narrow-row spacing (33 centimetres) versus their current practice of wide-row spacing (66cm) in chickpeas, as research has shown yield advantages and superior weed control in narrow-row systems.
While Ben and his family sowed chickpeas in wide rows in 2014, they proved a profitable investment, because most of the grain was stored on-farm and marketed after harvest to take advantage of upward price movements. One lesson Ben took from 2014 was the value of establishing wheat at the start of the planting window for each variety, rather than later in a bid to avoid frost. In 2014, the Boughtons’ early-sown wheat yielded up to 3.5t/ha while the late-sown wheat yielded 2t/ha. In 2013, frost reduced early-sown wheat yields from more than 3t/ha to 1.8t/ha. Ben says 2013 and 2014 were contrasting years, showing the effects of frost on an early crop versus the potential yield gain.
Region National, Overseas, South, North