Sunshine or not the Patons make hay pay

Photo of Hamish, Indi (with Emily the lamb) and Abby Paton

Hamish, Indi (with Emily the lamb), and Abby Paton in a crop of EGA Wedgetail wheat that was cut for hay in mid-October.

PHOTO: Nicole Baxter

To increase the profitability and sustainability of their farm business Hamish and Abby Paton have recently made some big changes to the enterprise mix on their properties at Morven and Urana in southern New South Wales.

When a severe frost hit the region four years ago, forcing the Patons to cut their crops for hay, what at first appeared to be a negative outcome actually turned into a positive for their business. Cutting crops for hay revealed to the couple weed control benefits and the potentially superior economics that hay presented. They were particularly drawn to hay production because of the opportunity it created to delay the onset of herbicide resistance on their farm.

Now, after several seasons of dedicated hay production, Hamish says hay is a “fantastic tool for weed control”, particularly for driving down the seedbanks of ryegrass and black oats (wild oats). Cutting crops for hay also enables the family to achieve higher fodder yields and higher profits than they were achieving with grain-only production.

For example, Hamish says he can produce double the fodder yields per hectare with hay than are possible with grain. However, the grain production to hay production ratio still depends on commodity prices and the weed management needs of various paddocks.

A program of adding lime at a rate of 2.5 tonnes per hectare over the past two years has also enabled Hamish and Abby to lift hay yield.

Hamish sows EGA Wedgetail wheat in April at 85 kilograms per hectare, typically with 120kg/ha of monoammonium phosphate. He prefers to use 178-millimetre row spacings to establish the wheat as the narrower spacings assist with weed control and later keep the cut fodder off the ground and help it to cure.

Cattle are moved on to the EGA Wedgetail from mid-to-late May and removed early-to-mid August, depending on seasonal conditions. After the cattle have been removed the wheat is fertilised with 100 to 120kg/ha of urea and allowed to regenerate for hay production.

At ear emergence, usually about mid-October, Hamish cuts the wheat with a mower-conditioner and allows it to dry for 12 to 14 days, before baling it into big square bales.

Generally, the Patons produce between 5000 and 8000 big square bales, with feedlots their major market. Until recently, the hay was stored in the paddock until sale, but late last year Hamish built a 5000-bale hay shed on the family’s Morven property to help maintain hay quality and earn higher prices.

In addition to the hay production, the Patons are also trying to boost profitability by introducing higher-value crops, in particular lentils.

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Profitability rising on a lentil learning curve

GRDC Project Code PAL00019, DAN00191

Region South, West