Market mix also a disease strategy

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Stuart Gall: minimising disease risk requires a disciplined approach to rotations.

Stuart Gall: minimising disease risk requires a disciplined approach to rotations.

Despite the lacklustre prices on offer for cereals, Stuart Gall is still planting plenty of them this year to stick to a rotation that minimises disease risk on ‘Tycannah’, his family’s property 20 kilometres south of Moree in north-western NSW. The rotation precludes the Galls from growing back-to-back cereals or pulses, but with beef cattle and hay also part of the production mix, he says the price outlook is not all bad.

“We grow for mouths, balers or headers – whatever gives us the best price. Our Gairdner barley in particular gives us great flexibility. It’s a malting barley that yields better than wheat, and makes very saleable hay in years like this when grain prices aren’t strong.”

The family’s 2017 winter crop planting schedule opened in April, with 240 hectares of grazing oats and 550ha of canola, followed by 485ha of feed and Gairdner barley, 1400ha of milling wheat and 800ha of chickpeas.

While he has doubled the area sown to chickpeas, he has resisted any temptation to plant chickpeas on chickpeas, despite good prices. “The disease risk is too high,” he says.

The same goes for cereal on cereal, and Stuart says the inclusion of canola provides a break crop as well as a bright price outlook in the winter cropping mix. “In terms of yield and oil content, canola is worst in dry years, but holds on well in the wet, as we saw last year when we lost a considerable area to chickpeas with flooding in spring. We windrow the canola in September, before we get into the cereals, so it works in the rotation, and generates early cashflow.”

He says a dry finish could bump up values for wheat harvested on ‘Tycannah’, which he farms in a partnership with his wife Karen and his brother and sister-in-law, James and Anna. “In tougher years, the protein increments for wheat can improve the returns.”

However, last year some crops were waterlogged and wheat yields varied wildly from two tonnes per hectare to 6.5t/ha, averaging 4.5t/ha. Hectare contracts took care of the 2016 chickpea crops and are in place also for 2017, with the wheat harvested expected to go into on-farm storage.

As at mid-May, the property’s soil moisture profiles were full under wheat stubble, and about two-thirds full under last year’s chickpea country, after 135 to 155 millimetres of mid-autumn rain.

Stuart is tipping chickpeas to be the best economic performer per area in 2017, along with cattle: “That’s why we’ve put in a bigger area of grazing oats,” he says.