Dual-purpose crops boost farm income

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NSW DPI technical specialist Peter Matthews says strong livestock prices have prompted growers to increase the area of their land planted to dual-purpose winter cereal crops.

PHOTO: NSW DPI

Buoyant livestock prices are one of the drivers behind an increase in the number of growers opting for dual-purpose crops across New South Wales.

NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) technical specialist, grain services, Peter Matthews says there has been an increase in areas sown to dual-purpose cereal crops in mixed-farming operations as growers have realised they can significantly bolster farm incomes.

Mr Matthews says across the 2016 research trials, EGA Wedgetail was estimated to return an additional 52 per cent in gross income per hectare, compared with grain sales only.

He says the increase in on-farm earning capacity is a result of improved livestock weight gains from stock on high-quality feed and returns from grain at the end of the season.

Mr Matthews and NSW DPI researcher Dr Mehrshad Barary have been investigating the performance of the latest dual-purpose cereal varieties as part of a GRDC and NSW DPI research investment.

“Grazing cereals have been a longstanding feature of rotations, and we are now seeing an increase in the area committed to dual-purpose crops across NSW as growers look for opportunities to improve farm profitability,” Mr Matthews says.

“There have been significant improvements in crop reliability, but there is still more to be done to refine the variety choices and agronomy.

“We are working to determine the best-fit dual-purpose cereal varieties for a range of growing regions and different farming systems using commercial best-practice agronomy to maximise profitability.

“The project aims to deliver information to growers about how they can improve forage management and grain production to boost returns from both income streams.”

The project, which has been running since 2013, has this season evaluated more than 70 commercial and breeding lines of wheat, barley, triticale and oats across eight sites.

A large trial is set up at Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute, where NSW DPI researchers are working to determine the important characteristics of dual-purpose cereal varieties.

Dr Barary has been exploring how different dual-purpose cereal types produce dry matter and then recover to produce grain.

The key differences include the length of the vegetative period, tiller numbers, plant growth rates during the vegetative period, and leaf-area index differences for genotypes.

Plant recovery from grazing is the second piece of the puzzle, with Dr Barary following the plants through to harvest, looking at what is driving final grain yield.

Regional trial locations across NSW include Holbrook, Cowra, Canowindra, Bathurst, Spicers Creek (north-east of Wellington), Somerton and Purlewaugh.

Economic gains from dual-purpose cereal

Wheat, triticale and barley variety trials at Holbrook this year (November 2017) that had been grazed twice by stock.

PHOTO: NSW DPI

New data from ongoing GRDC and New South Wales Department of Primary Industries trials shows growers can increase gross income per hectare by 52 per cent by using dual-purpose cereal crops (grazing and grain), as opposed to grain-only returns. Economic data from trials across NSW in 2016 shows, on average, EGA Wedgetail produced $607 from livestock weight gains from dry matter produced and $1152 from grain ($204/tonne, 5.469t/hectare).

Working in collaboration with cereal breeding programs, the project has insights into early testing of promising new wheat breeding lines, including the recently released LongReach Kittyhawk, from LongReach Plant Breeders, RAC2341 and V9150-01 from Australian Grain Technologies and ADV11.9149 from Dow AgroSciences.

Trials have spanned a range of seasons, with results showing effective management can deliver benefits from gains in feed availability for livestock and that grazed crops can achieve average to above-average grain yields for the season.

Mr Matthews says the trials have highlighted the importance of well-managed crop agronomy. He advises growers to carefully consider time of sowing and variety choice, with in-crop grazing management and nutrition key to crop performance.

“For many growers, one advantage of using dual-purpose cereals in mixed-farming systems is that they can spell pasture through autumn and early winter and have access to high-value stock feed,” he says.

“This year, growers who planted dual-purpose varieties early have had the benefit of stock feed during the dry autumn and winter conditions, and now the later-maturing crops have suffered less from the run of frosts in August and September.

“Another advantage is the high-quality feed that cereal crops provide to stock in terms of protein and energy, which is very digestible and produces consistent weight gain for finishing stock for sale.”

Mr Matthews says as part of the research trials the crops were grazed by sheep during the vegetative growing period and then managed through to harvest when grain yields were measured.

He says research has shown stock should ideally be moved out of cereal crops at about the Zadoks growth stage 31 (GS31), which will allow for crop recovery and grain fill.

“In years like 2017, making decisions about when to take stock out can be difficult, because many growers may have to consider the cost of buying feed versus the potential crop’s grain yield loss from grazing past GS31.

“Whatever option they take, crop nutrition throughout the season remains a key consideration.”

Mr Matthews says it is vital growers monitor crop nitrogen levels after grazing to ensure grain yield and quality are maintained. While most of the nitrogen harvested by livestock with grazing is recycled back to the paddock, it is generally not readily available within the season and crops can be hungry for nitrogen after producing a lot of feed.

“Some of these cereal varieties under trial have produced more than four tonnes of available dry matter per hectare, which equates to roughly 400 kilograms of potential live weight gain,” he says.

“Grain yield data for this year’s trials won’t be available until 2018, but the reality for many mixed-farming operations this year is that the income from grain sales will be the ‘cream on the top’ as they have proven their worth in terms of stock returns in a very difficult year.

“So as this research progresses we are seeing more growers consider dual-purpose crops, as they are proving an extra tool in the growers’ arsenal when it comes to spreading risk and increasing profitability.”

GRDC Research Code DAN00184

More information:

Peter Matthews
peter.matthews@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Mehrshad Baray
mehrshad.barary@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Useful resources:

Dual Purpose Cereals: Varieties and Management for the Northern Slopes and Plains – GRDC Update paper