Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 062 June-July 2006 - North
n Northern Victorian grower John Ryan views canola stubble as “money in the bank for the following year’s wheat crop”. Unfortunately, in 2006 he is overdrawn, due to the 2005 late autumn break rendering it too late to sow dryland canola on the 1000-hectare ‘Clontarf’ property that he and wife Helene run at Yarrawonga with their 25-year-old son, Evan. Nor did it fit into his irrigated crop rotation last year. “I think we are now paying the price, through weed control issues and by missing the disease break for this year’s wheat crops,” John says. “In hindsight, we messed up.” This year they are sowing BeaconA, a triazine-tolerant variety, in a plan to return to the winter crop rotation started in 1997, of canola followed by wheat then triticale, returning to canola. They have tried other break crops but found them not as economic. John sums up the perception that many growers have of canola: “We are growing a crop which is yielding the same as it was 10 years ago, receiving a lower price than it was 10 years ago and with double the input costs today. But we’ve found that when we didn’t grow it last year (because of a late break) we should have taken the risk anyway because other growers had surprisingly high yields.” Evan, who has returned to the farm after working as a TOPCROP agronomist with the Victorian Department of Primary Industries in the Wimmera and Mallee districts, is keen to stick with the winter crop Canola GROUND COVER JUNE -- JULY 2006 16 rotation but use his additional labour to grow soybeans as an irrigated summer crop. “Everything is going against canola at the moment, but we’ve had issues with radish and ryegrass and growing triazine- tolerant varieties helps,” he says. “The other problem is growers are seeing continuous cereal rotations can be successful with the right management, but you have to be twice as careful – particularly of disease.” John Ryan says he was a latecomer to canola, only introducing it to his crop rotation in 1997. “I wasn’t confident about the weed control it offered, but once I grew it I could see pretty quickly the system was going to work. Since then we’ve cropped one-third to canola, one-third to wheat and one-third to triticale. Last year we reintroduced oats to the rotation for hay production, to help with weed control.” “Over my farming career, canola has been one of the success stories of Australian agriculture. “It was easy to grow on our country, we didn’t need extra equipment to harvest it and the only additional work was windrowing.” With half of the property under irrigation, the Ryans planted 400 hectares of dryland and irrigated canola this year and are aiming for a yield of between 2.2 and 2.5 tonnes a hectare. More information: Evan Ryan, 0408 399 891, firstname.lastname@example.org n Varieties that perform better in lower- rainfall growing areas are important if canola production is to be maintained, according to industry leaders. While 2006 winter crop plantings are still to be tallied, the feeling in the industry is that some growers with less reliable rainfall were managing risk this year by leaving canola out of rotations. In more reliable districts, such as southern Victoria, predictions are for record plantings. “At the time growers were planning their cropping program for 2006 the price was around $320 a tonne,” Oilseeds WA executive officer John Duff says. “On the other hand, prices have risen to around $370 and good subsoil moisture exists in many districts, resulting in things swinging back in canola’s favour in the west. “In higher-rainfall areas of WA, receiving more than 450 millimetres annually, good plantings should be expected as canola is seen as a profitable crop in addition to its value in the rotation. “In the west, canola has been a consistent crop with only one poor year out of the past 10 for the state as a whole. WA in recent years has produced around 30 to 40 per cent of Australia’s total production. The average state yield has been gradually rising.” Mr Duff suggests 400,000 hectares will again be planted in the west this year, consistent with previous years, but there may be more planted in the high-rainfall districts. For the low-rainfall zone the final planting will also depend on the timing of the season break. In Victoria, the picture is even rosier with predictions of a record tonnage this year. Chris Bluett, Department of Primary Industries Victoria grains leader for southern Victoria, says in the past decade there has been a five- fold increase to 500,000 hectares cropped in southern Victoria. “Growers seem to be sticking to a canola- wheat-barley-canola rotation – sometimes with a legume crop as well – with a lot of success and most programs have at least 25 to 30 per cent canola,” he says. “The agronomy has improved significantly and once 2.5 tonne to the hectare was something you’d tell the neighbours about. Now that would be commonplace, with 3.5 and 4t/ha quite achievable when things go well.” Mr Bluett says improved varieties and growing techniques offer a consistency that gives growers confidence. “Some don’t just forward-market their crop once it is in the ground, they do it two years ahead because they have the faith it will perform.” In 2005, he was expecting a record year in south-west Victoria, where growers had sown about 105,000ha of canola (almost 50 per cent of the Victorian canola area). Harvest hopes were for 250,000t of canola. At windrowing the canola crops looked fantastic, he says. Pods were full, growth was lush, but when the harvesters went in to many of the crops “the yields were terrible, seed quality was awful and oil content was in the pits”. It left researchers, agronomists and growers perplexed. Through investigation, the poor outcome was attributed to exceptionally high populations of Rutherglen bugs in windrows, with perhaps some aspects of the weather between windrowing and harvest contributing to the problem. “The problem has growers thinking seriously about how they are going to manage their harvest this year – focusing on harvesting canola earlier or leaving a shorter window between windrowing and harvest,” Mr Bluett says. In eastern Australia, canola has also had a tough few years with lower prices, late autumn breaks, rising input costs, suggestions of declining yields and increasing cereal-based rotations. But Trent Potter, Canola Association of Australia president and canola researcher, says the tide is turning. “There has been a good autumn break in SA and Victoria, and with prices lifted somewhat on earlier predictions I think we may see more canola planted than we’ve witnessed in the last few years,” he says. “However as of mid-May, there has been little rain in NSW and plantings will be reduced.” The industry suspects many growers are starting to feel the impact of decreasing or removing canola from their rotation, through lesser wheat yields in a continuous cereal program and in weed-management problems. In 2004–05, 1.53 million tonnes of canola FOCUSING ON CANOLA were grown in Australia, one of the lowest tonnages since 1998 (beaten only by 2002–03 when widespread drought resulted in only 790,000 tonnes) and down significantly on the bumper season of 1999–2000 of 2.4 million tonnes. Long-time canola researcher Dr John Kirkegaard, from CSIRO Plant Industry, says growers need to remember the economic value of canola is generated from its break- crop effects within the rotation. “In 35 field experiments from 1988 to 2003 in southern NSW, wheat planted after canola yielded an average of 20 per cent more than wheat planted after wheat,” he says. “Significant yield benefits were seen in 90 per cent of cases. The gross margin for canola-wheat was 25 per cent higher than for wheat-wheat and 70 per cent of the increased gross margin came from the better wheat after canola.” The 16 new canola varieties released to Australian growers this year, and the similar number in trial for release in 2007, are giving growers hope, says Mr Potter, who works as a senior research officer at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI). “While not all of those are available straight away due to seed constraints, it gives growers a lot of choice and usually there is a variety which will suit most growing conditions,” he says. “At SARDI we are working on a selection program taking improved lines from NSW and Victoria to find material suitable for the low-rainfall areas of South Australia, which will also be able to be grown in low-rainfall areas of other states. “There is the potential for far more canola to be grown if we can find some early maturing varieties which suit the low-rainfall zones. Producers in those areas are looking for a financially viable break-crop that suits their region. “They are trying to avoid disease problems in wheat and weed control issues, and canola can provide that alternative break-crop to overcome these issues.” Southern NSW graingrower and Canola Association of Australia committee member, Bruce Thompson, says many growers in lower rainfall areas have pushed their rotations hard, often dropping canola. Mr Thompson crops 4000 hectares south of Temora. He says: “I’m now growing 20 per cent canola, I was growing 50 per cent. We wound our canola back last year, but I have to pick it up again to around 40 per cent this year. At the end of the day, the cereal crops are better after a true rotation. There’s no question of that: that’s proven.” GRDC Research Code PR53 More information: John Duff, 08 9475 0753, email@example.com; Chris Bluett, 03 5336 6625, firstname.lastname@example.org; Dr John Kirkegaard, 02 6246 5080, email@example.com; Trent Potter, 08 8762 9132, firstname.lastname@example.org PHOTO: KELLIE PENFOLD Dry summers, late autumn breaks and lower prices have compounded to reduce canola plantings in lower-rainfall farming areas and some of the traditional canola heartland, such as southern NSW. In the west, canola has remained a vital component in rotations, and in southern Victoria it has taken off with record plantings in the past couple of years. In 2006, researchers and agronomists say many growers will return it to their rotation, having missed the benefits of weed control and carry-over nitrogen it offers. Research is also working on establishing recommended dual-purpose (grain/graze) canola varieties, making it even more attractive to grow in mixed farming areas. On the other hand, researchers also suggest that, to meet predicted increases in demand, new varieties -- particularly those for low-rainfall areas -- will need to be rolled out in the next few years. Reports by Kellie Penfold John Ryan and son Evan IT'S 'MONEY IN THE BANK'
Ground Cover 063 August 2006 - North
Ground Cover 061 April-May 2006 - North