Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 062 June-July 2006 - North
Early rain brings optimism JUNE -- JULY 2006 GROUND COVER 23 Farm management Flexibility is at the heart of Australian graingrowers' plans for the 2006 winter cereals season. Being able to take advantage of unseasonable rain, or to change rotations to account for low grain prices and falls in demand, is critical to their approach. In this second part of the series, Ground Cover's Rebecca Thyer reports on how six growers from around the country are working through the 2006 season, discussing their plans and the thinking behind them 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 also crop lupins, but are halving the amount usually sown because of price pressures. Farm size and area cropped: Crops 3000ha, about 75 per cent of the farm n Our April rainfall was a bit early this year – we received about 15 to 29mm early that month. Now we’re waiting for a break to sow wheat. We’ve already sown some barley, which will be used as an early feed source, and dry- sown about 300ha of lupins. We normally sow about 700ha of lupins, but the price doesn’t look that good and weeds could be a problem. But, then again, if we get decent rainfall we might plant some more. We’re remaining flexible at this stage. In preparation, we’ve been burning chaff heaps and some paddocks – mainly those that will be wheat-on-wheat – fine- tuning the seeder and spreading lime. We’ve forward contracted about 20 per cent of our wheat and are considering doing the same for 2007. Predictions are for average rainfall and, with good stored soil moisture, we should achieve a better than average crop. 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 will crop canola, wheat and barley, while looking after their 10,000 Dohne and Merino sheep. Farm size and area cropped: 8500ha, cropping 4500ha n This year, with predicted high disease pressure, we’ve tried to get part of our disease management work done while we’re seeding, having added a Dosatron (a fungicide injector) to our liquid cart. We’ve injected Impact™ under the seed on high-risk varieties – like BaudinA barley – and early wheat. We’re in a high-risk area for foliar diseases, due to our moisture levels, so it’s important for us to get on top of disease management. Hopefully with a split fungicide strategy, we can remain on top of any infections. We’re planting 350ha of canola, 2000ha of wheat and 2200ha of barley and the season has broken well. The long-range forecast is for average to above average rainfall. With our stored summer subsoil moisture and a good break we are hoping for an average season. We’ve hedged 25 per cent of our wheat and are now looking at hedging for the 2007 season. We’ve also hedged some canola, but not too much, as it’s not as safe as wheat. PART 2 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. Their main aim is to return the farm to profit -- something Rex says will not be easy given their property size, Mallee rainfall and a time of poor returns and high costs. Farm size and area cropped: 750ha, with about one-third cropped to cereals and one-third to pastures, using cell-grazing principles n We’ve received roughly double the 100-year average rainfall for the first four months of this year, so our plans have been revised to sow more cereals. As very small farmers it is hard to justify large machinery, so we are negotiating to have crops sown by contract. For the same reason, we don’t plan to use forward contracts. For the first time since we purchased the property we will sow wheat, plus the usual malting barley and triticale, oats and vetch as hay mixture and veldt as a perennial. Our long-term plan is to be able to choose whether or not to sow cereals for grain on 25 to 50 per cent of the property, using the other areas for perennial pastures and sheep grazing. To clean up volunteer regrowth and to keep spray input costs to a minimum, we are intensively grazing cereal paddocks using a grazing density of 140 DSE (dry sheep equivalent) a hectare for short periods. It promises to be a good year – rainfall records for the past 100 years suggest good early season rainfall is often followed by good growing season rains. Former Nuffield scholar Peter Treloar works in a farming partnership with his brothers, Michael and John, at Edillilie, north of Port Lincoln, SA. The start to this season is already markedly different to that of last year, when the family faced clean-ups following the January 2005 bushfires and received no rain till June. This year, they have already had more than 200mm of rain. Farm size and area cropped: 3000ha, cropping 80 to 90 per cent of that area n Our plan is to start sowing in mid-May and finish up in mid-June – planting canola first, then pulses, wheat and barley. It’s the same rotation we normally follow, although the rain gives us more optimism and confidence. Rain has also provided us with some good options for pre-seeding weed control. Weeds have already emerged, so we’ve been able to hit them and we can maybe give them a double knock – it’s an opportunity we’ve not had for a long time. We’ve also been spreading gypsum on our canola paddocks, snail bait on our alkaline soils and doing some strategic stubble burning on paddocks going into barley production. It’s the best start to the season that we’ve had in years. On 1 January it started raining and it hasn’t stopped. To the end of April, we received 200mm, which is quite unusual. We have forward hedged about one- third of our wheat for the 2006–07 season and 15 per cent for the 2007–08 season. 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 with paddocks achieving 85mm or better. Farm size and area cropped: 5500ha, cropping about 70 per cent n We are planting a third of the property to wheat, 13 per cent to barley, seven per cent to canola, 18 per cent to lucerne and leaving the rest fallow. Our canola plantings are only about half of what we normally do because our confidence in that market has declined – there seems to be an oversupply, whereas wheat’s the other way. After assessing our disease risks, we’re going to plant wheat- on-wheat to a greater extent than normal. We’ve continued our program of monitoring soil-available water and have reached a level of 85mm or more across the farm. This was helped through a late planting last year, which meant profiles weren’t dried out. Monitoring our available water allows us to predict yields. It’s good for planning – we don’t just rely on a gut feeling, preferring to calculate our rotations to be sustainable, profitable and to minimise production risk. The season is looking good and with our high stored soil moisture, I’m confident. We don’t forward contract wheat – we’re great believers in the AWB Pool, they’re difficult to compete against. Richard Gardner, a former Nuffield scholar, and his wife Emily operate an irrigated and dryland farming enterprise at Tunbridge in Tasmania's central Midlands. They usually grow about 150ha of poppies for the pharmaceutical industry, but as processor GlaxoSmithKline has reduced orders by 90 per cent this year, the Gardners have decided to sow more cereals, and only 15ha of poppies. Farm size and area cropped: 2600ha, irrigated cropping 500ha and dryland cropping 150ha n We normally sow 150ha of poppies but the decrease in poppy requirements means we’ll grow more barley this season and take it easy. We considered other options but decided this was the best way to go. We’ll grow about 300ha of barley, up from the usual of 200 to 220ha. It’s not been a major problem to change the amount we grow, but it will be a cash issue, as poppies command a better price. We’ll also plant 100ha of marrowfat peas and some canola. So far, we’ve had a light autumn break and will be looking for more rain. Canola is planted first, followed by barley. Our high- value crops – peas and a small amount of poppies – will be planted in the spring. With the bad news about poppies, it’ll be a quiet year. We’ll undertake some contract grain drying, using a unit we set up last year to dry the peas. Rex Spinley (right) with Tim Prance, Rural Solutions pastures specialist, measuring pasture volume per hectare prior to cell grazing the paddock.
Ground Cover 063 August 2006 - North
Ground Cover 061 April-May 2006 - North