A grand-final win, now for the harvest

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Harvest is getting underway across mainland Australia and it wraps up a better year for many growers, especially in the WA wheatbelt. This is the fifth instalment in the six-part Ground Cover 2016 grower series, as we follow a group of growers from across Australia through the winter cropping season

Image of AG and Will Morrison

Brothers AG (left) and Will Morrison used wet weather downtime as a chance to catch up on maintenance around the farm.

PHOTO: Brad Collis


Bob Nixon and his wife, Amanda, farm in partnership with brother Daniel and wife Melanie, brother Matthew, and parents Robert and Helen at Kalannie in the northeastern wheat belt of Western Australia. They crop wheat, barley and canola and run Merinos.

The great season has continued in the WA wheatbelt. The only negative was a degree of frost in some early-sown crops. That’s not a surprise as we’ve continued to push the boundary with earlier timing of sowing as a way to manage the dry finishes of previous seasons.

Unfortunately growers further south have received more significant frost damage and we all feel for those affected. Winter felt cold, especially compared to last year when we were a couple of degrees above average and this year we’ve been a couple of degrees below.

Canola appears to be the highlight, both with yield potential and pricing. It is currently worth two-and-a-half times the price of wheat on-farm, which is historically high. Spring’s an enjoyable time of year; the agronomic work of spraying and fertilising the crops is complete. We can enjoy the good season and spring field days.

We’re fixing the deep-ripper in preparation to deep rip again after doing limited amounts in the past 10 years. There seems to be a resurgence of deep-ripping after recent trial results and the addition of inclusion plates behind the tynes. After years of liming, the inclusion plates are helping to get topsoil and lime down to the acidic subsoil. We’ve completed repairs and maintenance on harvest machinery in preparation for what looks to be a strong year in the WA wheatbelt.

A highlight was Kalannie hosting and winning the Central Wheatbelt footy grand final! Winter sport is such a big part of our small regional communities and many towns are working hard to keep our clubs going as populations decline. 

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 had almost 150 millimetres of rain in September, which waterlogged our flat, black country. This was too much for the chickpeas which we are unlikely to harvest now. I flew over them mid-September, came home and bought back our contract. The cereals have handled the conditions better with only some lodging and an unknown amount of blight. The linseed is looking good despite some lodging, and the canola has some sclerotinia which will reduce the yield.

However, we’ve done the best we can and still have a lot to be thankful for. We’ve been keeping active, and doing shed jobs to keep our spirits up. Harvest will start later than usual in November and with the continuing wet conditions is sure to be slow and tedious. Because of the dry start to the year and consequently deep sowing the crop, the staggered germination will also make things interesting at harvest. Even with the likely losses,

I think it will be a fair year production wise.

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 had decile 10 rainfall in September (90mm) and the wet weather continued into October, although we have not had any flooding or waterlogging. We are expecting well-above-average yields, although some of the crops have lodged so harvest logistics could be an issue. Being a wetter season, we used more fungicide, predominantly in chickpeas and lentils.

Harvesting barley and lentils was due to start in the last week of October, however this has been delayed due to the unseasonably cool conditions. We cut some cereals for hay in mid-September. We’ve been growing more hay for resistance management, however its profitability is never transparent. It’s a domestic-driven market with no forward pricing structure.

The past four years have been below-average production, but the business has grown in terms of hectares. Previously we’ve pushed our existing machinery, but because we have had an above-average season and more hectares under crop, this year the logistics have to keep up with increased production. We knew this, so we bought a new chaser bin and a second pre-used header. We’re now thinking about marketing. If we get malt-spec barley and high-protein wheat, we’ll act fast to sell it. We’ll also sell the chickpeas as soon as we can get them off. For the first time, chickpeas are going to be the best gross margin of all our crops.

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.

We had an unbelievable September with 103mm – four times our average September rainfall. It has turned the season around for us from the slow dry start. Coming into spring we’d had only 175mm for the whole year. We’ve been grateful for the mild spring we’ve had in terms of minimum and maximum temperatures, and no severe frosts. The past month or so we’ve been monitoring and controlling pests and disease in cereals and break crops, brown manuring the vetch and managing chemical fallow paddocks. We also completed our maintenance program for harvest. We are now about to start desiccating the pulse crops and then we will be full swing into harvest.

Arthur Gearon and his 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.

We were hand to mouth for much of the season because it was seriously dry, despite good seasons to the east and west of us. Our chickpeas were just hanging on until we jagged 120mm in one week in September, which gave us the reverse problem. After prepping the ground for the spring crops with nitrogen, zinc and potash, we got the spring sorghum in the ground once it dried out in October, followed by Bollgard® cotton.

After that, we harvested wheat, then started on what was left of our chickpeas. I aim to have the chickpeas finished by Melbourne Cup Day, but it’s always quite a difficult harvest. You have to concentrate because it’s so close to the ground and the chickpea dust is flammable. We had a bad header fire harvesting chickpeas last year. Once the chickpeas are off, we’ll need to get them delivered to meet our contract. However, the main focus these past few months has been succession planning – we had our third child, Steele, in August, so that’s been our priority!

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.

Because of the wet season we’ve had, we didn’t get onto the paddocks to start weed spraying on the cereals until the end of August. We’ve taken the opportunity in the past couple of months to complete a lot of maintenance. We’ve fixed fencing, renovated the sheep yards and performed routine maintenance on the irrigation equipment.

During September, we treated the cereals with Prosaro® (prothioconazole and tebuconazole) and spread urea. We prepared the poppy and green pea paddocks with cultivation and began sowing poppies in mid-September, followed by the peas. We finished lamb marking on the lambs born in July, and in September, we irrigated our cereals, poppies and peas.


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