Production packages: the on-farm experience
GroundCover™ Issue: 5
Trevor Elsegood of Yealering, Western Australia, can testify that crop production packages work as a basic formula. Along the way he's been fine-tuning and gaining experience that may be of interest to other growers.
In the late 1970s Trevor and Judy Elsegood saw the potential to make cropping activities on their property more productive without limiting future viability.
The Elsegoods' 4.000 hectare sheep/ wheat property at Yealering is in the north of Western Australia's soft wheat producing region where the average annual rainfall is about 325 mm.
Soil types on the property include sand over gravel, sand over clay, shallow gravel over conglomerate and duplex flats with salt areas. There are also some small areas of red loam and patches of deep white sand. The total cropping area is usually between 1.800 and 2,000 hectares.
With the package approach the Elsegoods started earlier sowing, higher fertiliser application and sowing rates, made use of specific crop varieties, and used plant and soil testing to improve production and allow continual cropping.
The soft wheat package aims to help farmers produce grain with fewer small grain sievings, higher hectolitre weights and protein levels below the 9.5 per cent maximum.
Mr Elsegood recognised these advantages but said the ability to adapt the package to individual situations played a large part in its success.
"Farmers can't apply the same principles and get identical results, the secret is to recognise good ideas and adapt them to suit individual circumstances," Mr Elsegood said.
Soil tests and nitrogen fixing
Mr Elsegood started soil testing to determine fertiliser requirements when techniques became available in 1970. The package added lupins to the cropping rotation in 1980 along with the practice of direct drilling.
"Not many fanners in this area were growing large quantities of lupins at the time and to be quite honest much of the soil is not suited to them." Mr Elsegood said. "We have persisted with them to gain the benefits of extra nitrogen in the soil for the following wheat crop."
Direct drilling presented a challenge solved by a John Deere 10-10 bar which produced far better results when direct seeding in stubble.
In 1988 the Elsegoods adopted earlier sowing times as the final phase of the package. Ideally, Spear wheat is sown until May 15 when the soft wheat variety Tincurrin is introduced and finished before May 31. The final wheat sown is Kulin (ASW) and lupins are sown between May 5 and 15.
Seeding rates are 50-60 kg/ha. This is altered for later sowing, depending on the season, and can be about 45 kg/ha.
Adopting new ideas
"The main thing that has changed is our attitude to early sowing and recognising the need for pasture manipulation before sowing a wheat crop." Some paddocks on the Elsegoods' property are in their thirteenth year of continual cropping with a wheat and lupin rotation.
With hindsight Mr Elsegood said seven years is the longest he would allow before including a pasture phase. "The gradual build-up of rye grass in particular and the threat of herbicide resistance call for a pasture phase," he said. The pastures are sown to a 50:50 mix of Nungarin and Dalkeith clover.
Without the inclusion of a pasture break or other break crops, the major problem to emerge from continual cropping with the package approach is a build-up of weeds including ryegrass, wild oats and radish.
Weed control relies heavily on chemicals which call for careful management. Mr Elsegood uses Gramoxone to control rye grass in the pasture phase as the chemical does not belong to the aryloxyohenexypropionate (Fop) or cyclohexanedione (Dim) groups of chemicals which are less effective as a result of resistance.
Out of pasture Trifluralin is used. In small areas of wheat severely effected by rye grass Mr Elsegood applies Roundup to kill everything, including the wheat.
Some crop diseases have increased since adopting the package. Earlier sowing times with higher fertiliser applications have increased the occurrence of septoria blotch and leaf rust, he said.
Despite the problems, Mr Elsegood said the benefits of applying the package are significant, as long as farmers remember that they may have to modify the formula.
"I don't see any limitations with the package provided a pasture with excellent clean legumes is included in the rotation," Mr Elsegood said.