Sowing done, now the rain wait

The crops are in the ground, although a late-autumn break meant dry sowing or delays while waiting for rain.

This is part three of the Ground Cover series following a group of growers through the 2015 winter cropping season.

Image of the Crouch family

Chris and Iris Crouch from Wandearah, South Australia, welcomed their first baby, Lottie, in March. Chris has returned to full-time farming this year after working for six years as an agronomist on the northern Yorke Peninsula.

Grower and agronomist Chris Crouch, wife Iris and daughter Lottie 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.

During April we received 35 millimetres of rain over several events, which meant we could start sowing after Anzac Day (25 April) and finish on schedule by the third week in May. We upgraded the main tractor prior to seeding and that went well. We had minimal rain during seeding and consequently the topsoil dried quickly. Due to the low topsoil moisture during seeding we left off the post-sowing pre-emergent treatment of metribuzin for the lentils because we didn’t want to risk herbicide damage. We baited several paddocks for mice, with chickpea stubbles having the highest numbers. At this stage we haven’t applied any in-crop nitrogen due to dry conditions; however, we will keep reviewing nitrogen requirements as the season unfolds.

Our soil tests, earlier, showed a low nitrogen starting point due to the dry summer resulting in low levels of mineralisation. We are running a Yield Prophet® paddock again to help with our nitrogen decisions. In-crop spraying started during June on our earlier-sown crops. After seeding we took a load of cows and calves that we’d bought over the past few months up north, and brought the bigger calves back to go through the feedlot.

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.

We finished sowing wheat and barley in some frost-prone areas around mid-May, and built a 1000-tonne silo to give us some additional on-farm storage. Due to the major rise in price, we slotted 43ha of PBA HatTrick chickpeas into a paddock that would have otherwise been wheat-on-wheat. We’ve been delivering lambs since January and have brought back the first 40t of urea. If a top-dressing opportunity presents itself now, we’ll be ready.

The early Urambie barley had a broadleaf spray in mid-May and in June all the other in-crop weed sprays were done. Winter is a good time for machinery maintenance and any equipment repairs prior to our busy time from mid-September when we start cutting hay. If we get some more rain, we’ll be able to buy more lambs. The price has doubled on the store lamb (weaner) side but this hasn’t led to the same increase in finished stock prices.

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 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.

We had some useful autumn rain so we did an intensive knockdown ready for this year, to store as much moisture as possible. After seeding our clover and lupins in late April, we dry-seeded wheat into some country that’s been ripped up, then also dry-seeded canola on the back of a positive Bureau of Meteorology forecast. Barley and the majority of the wheat program were sown into good moisture and double-knocked paddocks.

The ewes finished lambing in May, which was an intense period for feed management. We sold cattle out of the feedlot in early May and marked calves and lambs during June.

Also in June, we enlisted the help of CADS Survey to fly a fixed wing unmanned aerial vehicle over a trial plot to create a normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) map. The first mission was at four or five-leaf stage and they will be repeating this every month up to harvest. The idea is to build a reflectance map to give us signals about what’s happening in the crop. The final step will be to create a prescription map for variable rate application of fertiliser, herbicides and so on, and uploading that prescription for use in a tractor.

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.

We had to dry sow because by mid-May we’d only had 92mm for the year, 58mm of which fell in January. Historically, the normal season break is around 15 May, but we’ve had a run of earlier breaks so everyone was geared up and expecting it to be earlier and that’s not necessarily the case. June was forecast to be a decile 9 so we had everything sown waiting for the rain when it came.

Spraying is my full-time job from June through to August, and I’ve also been sorting out some GPS issues for clients. Our first commercial wheeltrack renovator has done about a thousand hectares and the client is happy with it. We’re building another couple of machines to be ready for the field-day circuit. We’ve also developed a new presswheel-sowing boot system that can be retrofitted onto an existing machine. We used this on our own machine in 2014 and now have a customer who’s bought a set of seed tynes from us. He’s done a fair bit of his program with it and is happy with the results. In May, the GRDC Resilient Grain Leaders program kicked off and Neale will be attending the first workshop for that in early July.

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.

As March and the start of April were so wet, we seeded almost three-quarters of our program (lupins, barley and Yitpi wheat) into moisture and have now stopped to wait for another reasonable rain. That will determine whether we decide to crop the rest of our program – 2000ha – or start cutting our hectares back depending on date and how much rain we get.

We’ve only received 4mm of rain in the past couple of months. No post spraying will be done until we get another rain and all inputs will be kept to minimum until we see a change in the weather pattern. We’ve been doing a lot of sheep work, tailing all lambs. The lambing percentage was more than 100 per cent, which was fantastic and was due to them dropping onto green feed. Now we are starting to feed grain as the sheep feed is going backwards from lack of rain.

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 harvested sorghum in early May, prior to sowing our chickpeas. The harvest results were OK considering the season we had: the sorghum yielded about two tonnes per hectare. It was a hot, dry finish, with no significant rain for a couple of months leading into harvest, and there’s no rain forecast in the short term. We’ve got more people buying our grain than ever before, and the sorghum price is very volatile. It tends to go down during harvest time, although it’s holding steady at the moment. During May and June we did some cattle work, taking all the weaners off the breeders – about 200 in all – and we’ll take the bulls out during June and July. Once everything is done, Mitch will head back up north to the Gulf to muster for two to three months.


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