Using climate forecasts with confidence

Man in Field

Northern NSW graingrower James Clark has achieved crop yields and quality beyond his most optimistic expectations of a few years ago.

This year he is hoping to harvest an average of 5 t/ha of Prime Hard wheat from his 400-hectare winter crop.

The 1,200-hectare family property, 'Colane', grows wheat, cotton, chickpeas and legumes in rotation.

For the past four years, 'Colane' has taken part in GRDC-supported climate information research projects run by the Agricultural Production Systems Research Unit and the Queensland Centre for Climate Applications in Toowoomba.

Climate and crop management information has helped Mr Clark increase his profits by 20 per cent and reinvest them in the property in the last four years.

Mr Clark has changed his whole cropping enterprise to save as much water in the soil profile as possible. This allows him to make the most of climate predictions, adjusting his management program, particularly nitrogen application and planting dates, accordingly.

Responding to change in SOI phase pattern

This year, Mr Clark felt confident to prepare early for what was forecast by May to be "the year" to grow a double crop.

At the first sign of changes in sea-surface temperature and SOI patterns he prepared for the possibility of a good season, organising for a double crop and fertilising with 100 units of nitrogen to the hectare.

He admits that no one would normally fertilise so heavily or so early, especially when the season was still dry.

"We were ready in the first week of April to sow because you never knew when it was going to rain and we wanted to be ready to plant," he said.

Once he did sow, he increased seeding rates and starter fertiliser to cater for the projected 6 t/ha potential yield.

That sowing was damaged by heavy rain, which drowned the newly emerging crop, leaving only 60 per cent of the plants.

Mr Clark sprayed out the remaining crop and re-sowed at 115 plants per square metre, which emerged and are growing well.

Assuming the crop escapes pests, disease and possible frost or hail damage, the next hurdle will be to harvest and store larger tonnages of grain.

Double on-farm storage capacity

He has doubled his on-farm storage capacity so he has the option of harvesting some of the grain early to prevent possible water damage.

Mr Clark has already planned a cotton crop for summer and has prepared and fertilised his cotton country which already has a full moisture profile, so he is ready to take the first available planting opportunity in October.

He will adjust his fertiliser rate and planting date to take advantage of the good seasonal outlook.

Program 3.7.1 Contact: Dr Roger Stone 07 4688 1293

Region National, North, South, West