Eyes on the market as season unfolds

With their crops in the ground, many of our growers are turning their attention to marketing strategies as the season progresses. This is the third instalment in the 2016 series in which Ground Cover follows 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-eastern New South Wales. They crop wheat, canola, barley, linseed and chickpeas in a 100 per cent cropping operation.

We had trouble with sowing because of our heavy wheat stubble. We chained it three times and still couldn’t get through it with the new planter fitted with coulter blades, so we ended up burning it. That was disappointing.

We sowed our canola, oats and barley deep – 18 centimetres, with around 8cm of soil over the seed in the furrow – to chase moisture. We had to manage our sowing program in between showers, but we weren’t in a hurry. Even prior to the rain, there was enough canola coming through to call it a viable establishment.

We put in Rosalind barley, and Drover and Comet oats from Pacific Seeds. The linseed stubble had to be burned to get the wheat in because the coulter wouldn’t cut through it. On the new block, we deep-sowed SuntopA wheat, linseed and chickpeas. Everything is out of the ground now and coming along nicely.

Now we’ll turn our attention to marketing and crop insurance, and look at the possibility of forward-selling any unique products on a per-hectare basis. We’ve already forward sold our chickpeas. We plan as if it’s going to be the best year ever, then expect one of the worst … we don’t like to spend the money before we’ve got it.

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 season and soils. They also run a feedlot for fat lamb production over summer and autumn.

Image of Gordon, Charles and Alistair Murdoch

Three generations of the Murdoch family – Gordon, Charlie and Alistair – on the farm in Kooloonong, Victoria.

Some rain halfway through sowing allowed us to sequence some paddocks to fit our double knock program. As soon as sowing finished, we top-dressed variable-rate sulfate of ammonia and some nitrogen. Our light sandy soils are very sulfur responsive, and we need to be proactive with early nutrition to get good tiller numbers and maintain yield potential relative to rainfall.

We rolled our pulses for ease of harvesting, breaking up any clods that formed during seeding and pushing in any rocks. Lentil and chickpeas are harvested close to the ground, and rolling the paddocks lets us get as much of the crop in the front of the header as possible.

From now on we’ll be looking closely at yield potential. With the low cost of nitrogen and the potential for rain, we’ll be paying a lot of attention to our nutrition and fungicide program, and securing product in case it’s scarce. We’ll also start focusing on marketing: derivatives, taking some options or swaps out on the Chicago Board of Trade if we feel the price structures are good.

We’ll be deciding on bottom-end yield potential and starting our sales program conservatively from there. We are looking for price protection for harvest. We need to get some marketing done now because if there is a heap of grain around at harvest, we’ll end up being price-takers for cashflow.

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.

The dry start here certainly impacted on our sowing program. It was challenging deciding which crop to sow dry, in what paddock – due to soil type, subsoil limitations and herbicide plant-back considerations such as Group B carryover residues from the 2015 Clearfield® crops.

Some paddocks were planned for pulses, but with little to no summer rain the risk of residues and potential yield penalty was too high. We overcame this by planting tolerant crops such as PBA Hurricane XTA lentils and ScopeA barley. We had only dry sown one third of our program by our usual finishing date of mid May. As a first-time dry sower, we decided to sow barley, wheat and brown manure vetch, as we considered these to be lower risk in a false-break scenario, and they can still be managed with a staggered germination.

We had received only 65 millimetres in 13 separate rain events from October through to mid-May and I was reluctant to sow high-value pulse crops without sufficient moisture. There are too many things we need to get right in this part of our rotation to grow a successful crop – inoculation, pre-emergent herbicide incorporation and germination. There is nothing harder than trying to manage crops that are sensitive to herbicide applications and harvest timing when the germination is staggered. The last week in May we got some good rain though, 25 to 44mm. It was patchy between the three farms but enough to get 90 per cent of the crop up, which was a big relief.   

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.

After harvesting our sorghum, we spent April blending some of it to meet ‘Sorghum 1’ standards. We decided to sell it, because the market didn’t look like going up and we didn’t want to store it because of the risk of pests.

The dry start allowed us to get on top of everything with spraying and double-knocking feathertop Rhodes grass and an early strike of fleabane. We also took the opportunity to spray some Group C chemical over the fallow to stop fleabane emergence during winter.

We received 18mm in early June, which was one of the better falls for the area but still a bit disappointing given the forecast. With the break in the weather, we hope to be spending July and August crop monitoring for diseases and pests, with the Mancozeb on standby if it gets cold and wet.

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.

Although 80mm at the start of May delayed seeding and shearing, it was brilliant to see the hydro dams in the mountain filling, because they supply our power and irrigation water.

We finished sowing at the end of May, then went into post-emergent spraying and spreading sulfate of ammonia on our Clearfield® canola. The canola was planted back in November and it’s looking really good. We have completed the installation of two new irrigation systems that will cover 60 hectares.

The ewes were pregnancy scanned towards the end of May and they will begin lambing this month (July). We are now post-emergent cereal spraying and provided it’s dry enough, we’ll be preparing and planting poppies. The area contracted to poppies is expected to be cut by around 50 per cent this year, due to a global oversupply.

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 wheat belt of Western Australia. They crop wheat, barley and canola, and run Merinos.

We had above-average rain in April and May. It was a textbook start to the year, resulting in our earliest finish to seeding ever, on 16 May. Due to the early finish and the high stubble loads we carried over from last year’s above-average season, we will go into spring with a higher frost risk than normal.

We have increased the area planted to canola, up 1500ha to 3760ha because of the great start to the season. This is more canola than we have ever planted before. Some fallow paddocks were swapped into canola, because fallow is very expensive to maintain starting with a full profile of moisture.

During June, we completed our post-emergent spraying and this is the first year we’ve applied post urea using variable-rate application. We used past yield maps and soil test results to develop the VR maps.

During July and August we’ll be crop monitoring for diseases. For an area that seldom gets significant benefits from fungicides, this year we’ll have to keep an eye out because of the green bridge across the state – we will need to be vigilant. We’ve broken all records this year on the amount of herbicides we’ve used because of the consistent early rain.

Region North, South, West