Tense times balancing learning and sowing

Photo by Emma Leonard: Skywatching: Mark Branson

By Emma Leonard

[Photo by Emma Leonard: Skywatching: Mark Branson]

Mark Branson, like so many growers, spent early May anxiously looking at the sky for any sign of rain. For him, there was an added urgency. The 2004 GRDC Nuffield Scholar had just finished his Nuffield Global Focus Tour and only had an eight-week sowing window before leaving on a study tour at the end of June. He crops 860 hectares near Stockport in South Australia.

He would usually expect to start his seeding program in late April, but this year started in desperation on 20 May, when it was still dry. He dry-sowed 163 hectares of pulses and 112 hectares of wheat in paddocks with low levels of weed seeds. "Dry sowing was tough. The soil was so hard it was chipping the tungsten protection off the points, but this year I had little choice," he says.

By the time the opening rain arrived on 11 June, Mr Branson had dry-sown almost half the cropping area: "The main concern relating to dry seeding is weed control. With no weed germination prior to seeding, all this year"s weed control will occur in crop."

This means expensive selective herbicides will be required because weed densities are likely to be heavier; heavier weed burdens increase the chance of developing herbicide resistance. These factors make dry sowing risky and expensive but was done by many growers in southern and eastern Australia this year. Mr Branson"s Nuffield study is on Precision Agriculture (PA) developments in the US and Europe.

GRDC Research Code NUF00007
For more information: Australian Nuffield Farming Scholarships, www.nuffield.com.au