Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 063 August 2006 - North
Blame it on the rain It is a mixed bag for Australian graingrowers at this point in the season. A lack of rain is causing some to contemplate a change of plans, while others feel they have been very lucky with the rain they have received. Ground Cover’s Rebecca Thyer continues her series of reports on how six growers from around the country are progressing through the 2006 season Stuart McAlpine runs a mixed farming enterprise with his wife Leanne at Buntine, in WA’s central north wheatbelt, cropping wheat, barley, canola and oats. The McAlpines are contemplating a change in plans on some paddocks due to low rainfall. Farm size and area cropped: Crops 3000ha, about 75 per cent of the farm n The season’s looking pretty bleak, mostly due to a lack of rain. We’ve been lucky to get a few storms over various parts of the farm, which means about 30 to 40 per cent of our cropping program is excellent. Germination on the other 60 per cent of the farm is a bit patchy and there’s 400ha we haven’t seeded yet. About 300ha of that was destined to be wheat – on a wheat-on-wheat paddock. But we’re waiting to see how rainfall goes. It might be more worthwhile planting oats as feed and as weed control. Then again, if the rest of the farm isn’t doing too well, we might need the wheat generated by this paddock. The latest we’d plant wheat is the first week of July. We’ve got 1200ha of early feed – both barley and a mixture of barley and lupins – which has established well. Our district was starting to show glimpses of getting back on track after 2002, but it looks like we’re in for a setback – in a 50km radius there are farms that have had no rain for about two months and mixed farmers are bringing in hay to feed livestock. Rainfall over our property has varied – we’ve had 44mm at the house, but only 12mm on other parts. This is better than some other parts of the district where they’ve only received about 4mm in the past couple of months. Former Nuffield scholar Phil Longmire and his wife Belinda crop in a high-moisture zone, north-east of Esperance, WA, as part of a family operation with Phil’s parents, Ian and Chris. This year they aim to improve pastures. Farm size and area cropped: 8500ha, cropping 4500ha nWehadagoodstarttotheseason–we received about 40mm of rain on 27 April and about 25mm during seeding, which finished on 26 May. June was relatively dry but with good soil moisture there has been little crop stress. We received 14mm of rainfall, which hopefully means a the shift to the traditional winter pattern. With a focus on pasture improvement, we have just completed sowing new varieties of medics, clovers and serradellas into old pasture with ALOSCA mixed into superphosphate to provide new rhizobia. These pastures have been sown with a small seed spreader on the front of the tractor, with the super spread behind. Paddocks are then rib-rolled. We have applied some areas with peat rhizobia as well and will soil test to see the responding nitrate levels. Hopefully this will boost natural soil nitrogen and increase stocking rates through the higher herbage-producing varieties, with the added benefit of increased organic matter. We have started our manipulation program on heavier soil types and will continue over the next month. We’ve also started in-crop spraying, with a few in-crop grass selectives but most broadleaf and trace element top-ups. We have recently imported dribble bars from North Dakota and will commence liquid nitrogen top-ups next week if rainfall prevails. Rex Spinley decided to get back into farming three years ago, following his retirement, and bought the Karoonda property, in SA’s Mallee region, with his wife Cely. They abandoned their decision to sow cereal crops early because the weather has been too dry. Farm size and area cropped: 750ha, with about one-third cropped to cereals and one-third to pastures, using cell-grazing principles n Although our year-to-date total rainfall exceeds the 100-year average, we’ve experienced a very dry May and June. We’ve also experienced unusually cold days with very severe frosts. The cold has ‘burned off ’ pastures that were green at the end of April and productive in early May. However, a heavy rainfall event will most likely allow it to recover. The lack of growth has put pressure on growing stock, with half our ewes with lambs at foot and half about to lamb. We’ve delayed our decision to sow cereal crops early, although others in the district have sown early. We decided to reduce crop sown by 30 per cent and to sow dry using no-till methods. If we do get more rain we may sow a further area for pastures that has been sprayed out, but has inadequate soil moisture at the moment. The reduction in area sown to cereals is a risk- management decision. The dry June period enabled us to bring forward our shearing, which has just been completed – a month early. Former Nuffield scholar Peter Treloar works in a farming partnership with his brothers, Michael and John, at Edillilie, north of Port Lincoln, SA. Farm size and area cropped: 3000ha, cropping 80 to 90 per cent of that area n The season is progressing nicely. We had good conditions prior to seeding and opportunities to kill weeds. We’ve received 320mm of rain this year – 20mm of it over the June/July weekend – and, with good soil moisture, we’re not desperate for more at the moment. During July we sprayed grass weeds out of the canola and pulse crops and applied urea to our cereal and canola crops. Winter’s been cold and we’ve had more frost than usual, but I don’t envisage that being a problem. At the moment we have no need for any fallback position, but with cropping, things can change pretty fast. John Single runs a mixed farming enterprise with his wife Mary in northern NSW, 50km east of Coonamble. John’s fallowing program to improve available soil water has worked and might ensure the farm copes with reduced rainfall. Farm size and area cropped: 5500ha, cropping about 70 per cent n All our proposed plans are on track. We were able to plant around the rain we received about Anzac Day. By early June, planting moisture was receding but we were able to continue to plant by using moisture-seeking equipment. We’ve been pretty lucky lately too. Over the past couple of weekends we’ve had about 40mm of rain. Others in the district haven’t been so lucky. The good soil moisture we’ve built up should guarantee us a good crop, even if we don’t get any more rain. It should mean that we at least break even. The next thing to watch is the AUGUST 2006 GROUND COVER 23 Farm management PART 3 Southern Oscillation Index. It’s been dropping rapidly of late, which is always a concern. The rainfall predictions for the next three months suggest there is a 20 to 30 per cent probability of exceeding median rainfall. Richard Gardner, a former Nuffield scholar, and his wife Emily operate an irrigated and dryland farming enterprise at Tunbridge in Tasmania’s central Midlands. Good pre-sowing rains have helped ensure good emergence and the Gardners now need to keep an eye on pests. Farm size and area cropped: 2600ha, irrigated cropping 500ha and dryland cropping 150ha n We’ve been lucky and had good rains before sowing. Now, about 95 per cent of our cereals are at the two to three-leaf stage. The exception is in our heavy soils, which would have benefited from some post-sowing rain – we haven’t had rain for about six weeks now. We’ve had a few earth mites, so have been spraying some paddocks. Mice numbers are also increasing. It’s been about five years since we’ve seen numbers like this. Any exposed seed has been eaten, but because we had good germination everything is OK. We’ll just keep an eye on mice numbers and may have to do some baiting next year. We’ve had a constant run of frost, which is not a problem yet because of the growth stage the cereals are at. A bit of rain would freshen it up though. Everything is going to plan so far. We’re just waiting to get out there and do our weed control. Northern NSW grower John Single.
Ground Cover 062 June-July 2006 - North
Ground Cover 064 September-October 2006 - North