Dry sowing helps secure uncertain seasons

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Dry sowing helps secure uncertain seasonsA 20-millimetre rainfall event that arrived on 20 May this year marked one of the best seasonal breaks Daniel Critch has witnessed at Tenindewa, west of Mullewa, in the past five years. Daniel, who crops 8000 hectares with his brother Tim and father Tony, says this rain was on top of 34mm in January and 70mm in February.

But the big gain for the family’s cropping program was the fact that half the cropping area was already sown, dry-seeding having started on 25 April.

Daniel has become a strong supporter of dry sowing, saying it offers several advantages. He says it takes the stress out of completing their large cropping program, particularly if machinery breaks down, and with the pressure not so intense it creates an environment in which workers can be properly trained.

Although the family has yet to quantify in detail the benefits of dry sowing, Daniel says their observations to date indicate that early-sown crops are yielding better than late-sown crops “in 90 per cent of cases”.

He is also convinced that dry sowing has helped mitigate potential losses from a shifting rainfall pattern in the region. Daniel has measured 25 per cent less winter rain over the past decade, with summer rain now making up a larger proportion of total annual rainfall.

This, of course, has required an increased emphasis on summer weeds control. “This year we were on the sprayer day and night,” he says. “And using a WeedSeeker® enabled us to make huge chemical and moisture savings.”

For 2011, the cropping program comprises 6000ha of MaceA and MagentaA wheat, 1500ha of CobblerA, Tawriffic TTA and TanamiA canola and 500ha of HindmarshA barley.

Recently, lupins were dropped from the rotation due to their low returns. Now, the typical crop sequence is wheat/wheat/fallow or wheat/fallow/wheat. Canola is only planted if there is sufficient subsoil moisture.

Daniel says 2010 was successful despite being their smallest program in years, as the family decided not to sow paddocks that had a low probability of performing. Higher prices achieved for a quarter of their program made a big difference to their bottom line, despite three-quarters of the crop being hedged.

With 125mm of rain (65mm in June, 33mm in July and 25mm to 8 August) recorded since the end of May, extra nitrogen added and a full profile of moisture at the start of August, Daniel says the outlook for the season is extremely positive.

– Nicole Baxter

Region West