Climate trends mirrored in sowing decisions

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Long-term climatic trends are changing the way growers are approaching many of their agronomy and farming operations, and sowing is no exception. This is the second instalment in the six-part Ground Cover 2016 grower series follow a group of growers from across Australia through the winter cropping season


Peter Jackson and wife Janice farm three properties with sons Brad and Phil, their wives Jenna and Ashlee, and grandchildren Kaylah, Riley, Lilly, Jamie, Isaac and Isabelle at Gurley in north-western New South Wales. They crop wheat, canola, barley, linseed and chickpeas in a 100 per cent cropping operation.

We have completed laser levelling and draining work on the wet areas of our existing blocks, and drained a series of depressions on the new block. We should now avoid getting bogged at sowing.

We’re now waiting on rain. 50 millilitres is required for a normal sowing, otherwise dry sowing may be an option.

On our existing two properties, we have 260 to 280 hectares in each rotation, starting with canola, then barley, linseed, wheat, then back to canola. On the new block, we planted 200ha each of chickpeas, wheat and linseed. We don’t grow pulses on the existing blocks because of root lesion nematodes, but the new block doesn’t seem to have the same issues.

We have also taken delivery of our new planter and have done a trial of deep-sowing phosphorus, which went well. So we are ready to go.

Alistair and Simone Murdoch farm with son Charlie, and Alistair’s parents Gordon and Geraldine, at Kooloonong in north-western Victoria. They crop wheat, barley, canola and a variety of pulses, depending on the season and soils. They also run a feedlot for fat-lamb production over summer and autumn.

We’ve had below-average rainfall to this point, but still better than 2015. The seasonal outlook is optimistic, so we are going in with a bit more confidence. All the models are positive but, that said, it’s a poor time of year for forecast accuracy.

We started sowing at the beginning of April with lupins, then faba beans, then canola. We let the logistics drive our crop rotation decisions to an extent. We like to start sowing a little earlier than necessary to sort out any teething problems. That way, when we needed to ramp it up and get the hectares done in a day we’ve got everything sorted. We finished sowing by 20 May.

Our next focus will be implementing our early in-crop nutrition program. Because we have a dune-and-swale landscape, we have a lot of variation in soil nutrition, so we are proactive with variable-rate application to get good early vigour from all our soil types. We will also be post-emergent spraying to keep the crops clean and target weeds while they’re small.

Jock McNeil farms at Paruna, South Australia with parents Ian and Jane, and brother Digby. They crop wheat, barley, rye, vetch, field peas and lupins in a 100 per cent cropping operation.

Portrait of Jock McNeil

Paruna grain grower Jock McNeil.

PHOTO: Rebecca Jennings

Leading up to sowing (February/March) we were handling grain and getting our equipment ready for seeding. We sowed in April as soon as we got the rain.

This year we have put in wheat, barley, rye, lupins, field peas, vetch and lentils in a 70 per cent cereal/30 per cent legume ratio. This is part of our long-term farm rotation strategy.

During early May we seeded and, depending on how early and well the season breaks, we plan to start applying post-emergent in-crop herbicides in late May to mid-June and potentially top-dress cereal crops in early June.

Arthur Gearon and wife Nikki farm with parents Paul and Naureen at Chinchilla, Queensland. They grow wheat, barley, chickpeas, sorghum, cotton, mungbeans and also run 100 head of Angus cattle.

Towards the end of March, we harvested the sorghum we planted at Christmas and got some reasonable yields. However, the whole district had a stalk rot issue and it was a rush to get it off before it started lodging, with large patches going down. It was a trade-off: not wanting to spray the sorghum out and exacerbate the lodging issue, yet not wanting to take high-moisture sorghum off at the current prices and then have to dry it.

The whole of the Darling Downs had a bad summer with barnyard grass because of the wet January (just over 200 millimetres), and we were no exception. Not being able to get onto wet paddocks meant we turned to some tactical tillage when things dried up, due to the growth stage and variety of weeds. Anything we were able to keep through no-till still has a reasonable level of soil moisture.

I planned to have oats in the ground for the cattle by May if we had any rainfall at all. If by May we had rain, the plan was to sow chickpeas. Usually these would go in from May to early June, but we like to plant them deep and early if conditions are right.

Brothers Will and AG Morrison farm with their father Ian at Cressy, Tasmania. They grow wheat, barley, canola, poppies and canning peas, and also run 100 Poll Hereford breeders and 5400 Coopworth ewes.

Our poppies and the last of the peas were harvested towards the end of summer and the poppy stubble was cultivated back into the ground. Most poppy paddocks have gone back into wheat. The wheat straw that was baled after the January harvest was sold to a mushroom farm and we burnt what was left of the wheat stubble. Wheat seed was cleaned mid-March. We completed knockdown summer sprays for all cereals throughout March and then another pre-emergent and knockdown just prior to sowing.

We grow ryegrass and clover seed for seed production and we have finished sowing these. We put in 80ha of Hyola 971CL canola and irrigated it. The last half of our lucerne has been made into silage. By the end of April, we had sown 600ha of Manning wheat, and planted 200ha of WestminsterA barley.

We sold the last of our fat lambs and sheared in May. After sowing, we’ll start preparing the ewes and their paddocks for lambing in July.

Bob Nixon and wife Amanda farm in partnership with brother Daniel and wife Melanie, brother Matthew and parents Robert and Helen at Kalannie in the north-eastern wheatbelt of Western Australia. They crop wheat, barley and canola and run Merino sheep.

Most of the state received fantastic rain over Easter. Here we had 60mm for March. We had already finished one summer spray over most of the farm from a 30mm fall in January. Dr David Stephens noted in the 2015 Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre report there’s been a 27 per cent increase in summer rain in the WA wheatbelt since 2000, and a 20 per cent reduction in winter, so summer sprays are now the norm.

We’ve got more hard-to-kill summer weeds – tare vine, windmill grass and button grass – and some years we now spend almost as much on summer spraying as winter. We’ve had an increase of about $20 per effective hectare in herbicide costs over recent years. Despite this, summer spraying remains a no-brainer.

We finished seeding about 25 May. Previously we had aimed to finish by the end of May but now try to finish a little earlier because the seasons are drier and more variable.

Our rotation is similar to the past few years: 2300ha of triazine-tolerant and Roundup Ready® canola, 2000ha of barley and 8000ha of wheat. Spartacus CL barley and Scepter wheat are the new varieties being bulked up this year; both appear to offer great potential.

In June, we’ll look at post-emergent spraying and nitrogen application, which mainly goes out post-emergence so we can manage the season as it unfolds.

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Awards for dedication

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Herbicide hangover troubles crop selection

Region National, North, South, West