All fingers crossed for a ‘kind’ spring

Map showing locations of growers for Ground Cover series following their seasons

Conditions are promising in NSW but have been difficult across the rest of the country, with lower-than-average rainfall throughout winter. 

This is part 4 of the Ground Cover series following a group of growers through the 2015 winter cropping season.

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.

Rain in mid-July of 20 to 40 millimetres put the season back on track. After the rain, we applied nitrogen (N) to most crops. They have been N-demanding due to their low N starting point. In-crop weed control was completed with no issues, and in mid-August we sprayed our lentils with a fungicide before their canopy closed.

In July, we went up to the Roe Creek cattle sale in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, and bought 80 cattle to take to the APY lands. The last 150 cattle out of the feedlot have been sold. Beef prices are exceptional at the moment, so we’ll be unlikely to purchase any more. We forward-sold a small amount of wheat for the coming season but I was pretty conservative due to the production risks. Currently, we are getting the hay and harvest equipment ready and monitoring crops for insects and disease. We will start cutting hay in mid-late September, before harvesting field peas in late October.

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

We had 230mm of in-crop rainfall up until the end of July, so we finished topdressing our post-emergent spraying mid-to-late July. Due to the full moisture profile, we are doing 480ha of EM38 surveys, with a goal of accurate variable fertiliser rates. Our grazing Urambie barley produced a mountain of feed so we had the stock on that over winter.

We’ve been selling our older lambs, and have just bought new young lambs. Lamb prices are great; not record-breaking, but consistently good.

I went to the GRDC Update in July and the Farm Business Update in Dubbo, NSW, in August. I also plan to attend some of the Grain Orana Alliance trial days.

We’ll start mowing our hay mid-September, before windrowing canola around 20 October. We’ve got the right amount of fertiliser for our target yields but if we have a wet spring, there could be more to apply. We sold all our chickpeas on a hectare-based contract at sowing, and we now have 50 per cent of our canola sold.

We haven’t had a winter this wet for as long as I can remember. Hopefully that will translate into cash in the bank come harvest.

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.

After another significant dry period into the end of July we received some magnificent rains: 1.5 times our average July rainfall in two days. They caused no soil damage, so we went into August with a full profile, prompting further top-ups of nitrogen on cereal crops.

Lupins and canola flowered well, and the barley loved the combination of moisture, nitrogen and fungicide. The wheaten hay was also sprayed for powdery mildew. The crops have been very clean for weeds in crop, which is a bonus. But even with these rains, the damage had been done, with the wheat crop thinner than expected. However, we now have a realistic chance of an average year.

Due to this doubt over production, only a small amount of our grain has been committed for sale, though the prices at the start of July were very attractive. The dry years in the first decade of the 2000s have made us more reactive growers, playing seasonal conditions rather than blindly following a prescribed plan. As much as that decade hurt – mentally, emotionally and financially – I believe it has made us better growers.

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.

Image of Neale Postlethwaite

Neale Postlethwaite (pictured) from Gooroc, Victoria, runs a machinery fabrication business – TPOS – with his brother Trevor, alongside a full-time cropping operation. They have recently developed a wheeltrack renovator that is generating a great deal of interest among the controlled-traffic farming community. Neale is also one of the 2015 GRDC Resilient Grain Leaders.

PHOTO: Daniel Postlethwaite

We didn’t finish sowing until mid-July; it was drawn out due to the lack of rain. The last paddock of chickpeas had to be dry sown. Our new sowing boot system worked well, with even plant establishment both on our farm and on our client’s farm in the Mallee. After we finished we received about 15mm, which kicked things along.

We have built our third wheeltrack renovator, and interest has been growing since I spoke about it at the Victorian No Till Farmers Association annual conference and with a grower tour group. I’ve been full-time spraying for in-crop weed control during August and the workshop is busy with a couple of damaged header fronts. If we get the rain we’ll look at variable-rate fertiliser but currently there is enough nitrogen for the crop.

I attended the first GRDC Resilient Grain Leaders workshop in Mildura, Victoria, in late July, and my other off-farm task from August through to October will be helping out with the SPAA Precision Ag EXPO, as part of the SPAA committee. If we get enough interest in the wheeltrack renovator we’ll be doing the field day circuit also.

TPOS Fastrac

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.

We’ve been busy post-emergent spraying and spraying fencelines to stay on top of weeds. As temperatures were warm around May/June, and there was a lot of summer moisture, all our early wheat ran up a bit, but July was cooler and more of a winter pattern, so it’s slowed down now and is tillering. Our later crops were sown two weeks later than planned, but due to pre-furrowing, no sheep feeding on them and summer moisture we decided to go ahead. They will need a kind September now to finish them off.

We ended up with 5000ha of wheat, which is about 500ha short of what we had planned at the start of the year, so we put in an extra 300ha of barley. Originally that was for grazing, but with the current barley price and given it’s a clean, good crop, we’ll now keep it for grain.

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 took the last of the sorghum off in mid-to-late July, averaging 2t/ha. That wasn’t too bad given how dry it was and that March and April were so warm. Sorghum prices are holding steady, and up on what we’ve previously had, so that cushions the blow of not having the yield.

With the seasonal outlook we’ve got coming I’m more concerned about what’s coming up: lower-than-average rainfall and higher-than-average temperatures. There was no rain north of Emerald, Queensland, at all over winter. Our chickpeas are doing it tough. They just missed a couple of changes that came through and some took six or seven weeks to get out of the ground. It’s our first time growing them this year so we’ll see how it goes.


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