Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 064 September-October 2006 - North
Farm management GROUND COVER SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER 2006 20 Season wilting after a dry winter For growers across Australia, a lack of rain still dominates farm management decisions. Although some are hopeful that there is enough in the season to keep them going, others are wondering if their headers will be leaving the shed this year. 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. Farm size and area cropped: Crops 3000ha, about 75 per cent of the farm n This growing season we’ve received about 100 millimetres of rain. We normally get between 250mm to 280mm, so we’re way down on average. It’s also been pretty hot. We’ve had a couple of days of 30oC and over. If the temperatures stay hot, it won’t be good. Without immediate rain, it’s difficult to say how we’ll finish. Some of our earlier planted crops are doing OK, but the later ones aren’t. We had a fair bit of stored soil moisture to start with, but that will all be gone now. We’ve wound back a couple of forward contracts – I wanted to cut my losses now because I don’t think we’ll be able to deliver on them. This year will put huge pressure on our finances for next year, although the banks are usually very supportive. A lot of growers around here are asking – why are we doing this? The cost/benefit ratio is not right. 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 n It’s been a season of contrast this year. We had one of the best starts, but now we’re having a very hot and dry winter. We’ve been lucky enough to get a few storms recently to cool the soil after the hottest four days in 70 years, where temperatures reached 34oC. This differs with last year, where we experienced a cool, mild finish. This season’s hot weather has meant we’ve lost a fair degree of potential yield. This might be beneficial during grain fill if the season remains dry. We’re hopeful of getting some spring rain, but we’re managing OK for the time being. West of Esperance, some growers are doing really well – there’s a 40-kilometre band where a lot of rain is falling. This winter, we’ve probably averaged about 76 millimetres in total. It’s certainly been dry, which doesn’t fit with the long-range weather forecasts. Disease-wise, we’ve seen leaf rust developing on our barley, so we’re spraying that with its first fungicide application PART 4 now. Although we’ve not had any stripe rust yet, we’ll start spraying the wheat on flag emergence. Following retirement, Rex Spinley decided to get back into farming and bought the Karoonda property, in SA’s Mallee region, with his wife Cely three years ago. The dry winter has forced them to sell off most of their Merino and cross-bred flock. Farm size and area cropped: 750ha, with about one-third cropped to cereals and one-third to pastures, using cell-grazing principles n With no winter rain, things have turned from bad to worse for us. We had budgeted to carry a certain amount of stock based on the start to the season. All we needed was an average season. We didn’t get that and now we’re having to destock. From 1500 dry sheep equivalent (DSE) at the start of the season, we’ll be lucky to carry 300 through to the summer, and we’re selling them into a deflated market. I’ve also changed the lambing season to coordinate with our new plans. It means we’ve now got 350 lambs at foot. At the moment, I’ve got no idea what we’re going to do with them. I don’t know if we’ll even get a harvest now. We really need early spring rain to sustain us. At this stage, I’d be happy to even get our seed back. We’ve had some freaky results with the weather. We got about four millimetres of rain the other day at the house, but it turned out that the crops 100 metres away were completely dry. 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 Like other parts of the country, we’ve had a very dry winter. Adelaide had the driest winter on record. We’ve had about 110 millimetres for June, July and August – about 50 per cent of our average. But we’ve still got good potential, mostly because of good summer and autumn rain. To maximise our potential, we will need spring rain. Unlike other parts of the country, we’ve not had hot weather, just dry weather. Dry conditions have kept a lid on disease, although there has been some reported – mainly leaf rust, although there’s been isolated reports of stripe and stem rust. If we get a good rain, it will increase the risk of disease. Some growers in the district are now spraying fungicide as a precautionary measure. We’re not spraying yet. We’ll monitor it and see how it goes. The interesting thing to watch now will be grain prices. If there is a lack of grain, perhaps we might see a hike in domestic prices, although that’s no consolation if you’ve got no grain. Hay could also be in demand. 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, which is important given this season’s lack of rain. Farm size and area cropped: 5500ha, cropping about 70 per cent n Spring will be a critical time for us in terms of rainfall, even for our more advanced wheat and canola crops. That’s because they both have developed lots of biomass and need a lot of water to finish off. Rain is also needed for our later-planted crops, which are beginning to look a little dry. However, despite the conditions, the crops are holding out well. If the season continues to be warm, we can expect yield penalties. For us, the difference will be between good crops and large crops. The potential for a large crop is still quite good, although spring rain will be critical. We’ve noticed a small amount of yellow leaf spot and some blackleg on the canola. These are not a big concern yet. Richard Gardner, a former Nuffield scholar, and his wife Emily, who operate an irrigated and dryland farming enterprise at Tunbridge in Tasmania’s central Midlands, are emerging from a winter without rain. Farm size and area cropped: 2600ha, irrigated cropping 500ha and dryland cropping 150ha n It’s the driest winter on record for Tasmania – we’ve had no winter rain at all. All our crops are on the moisture stretch now and although spring rain will be critical, we’ve got until October to get it. It will be unlikely for us to go until then without any rain, but we’ll have to wait and see. If things don’t change – and we don’t get any rain – we’ll be lucky to yield two tonnes to the hectare. Based on our low soil moisture and the lack of rain, we won’t put any nitrogen down now. The lack of moisture has meant we have not got any disease pressure, though. At least that’s a positive. Poppy contracts are back up, and we are growing more than last year. We should have enough water to grow a crop. This year we only have 200 millimetres out of a potential 1000mm so other crops we normally water, such as peas and lucerne, will miss out on irrigation. Stuar t McAlpine on his property at Buntine, WA.
Ground Cover 065 November-December 2006 - North
Ground Cover 063 August 2006 - North