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Rain sets up season well, but poses challenges

Southern Mallee grower Rob Pocock says consistent rainfall helped to minimise frost this season.
Photo: Courtesy Rob Pocock

Each year, GroundCover™ follows a group of growers from across Australia as they manage the cropping season. In this fifth instalment for 2022, they tell Nicole Baxter, Melissa Marino and Andrew Cooke how their winter crops are tracking.

Western Australia

Andrew and Marie Fowler, with Andrew’s brother Simon and sister-in-law Robyn, run a mixed operation across a number of locations between Condingup (near the south-east coast) and Beaumont (45 kilometres inland). They grow canola, wheat, barley, vetch, serradella and ryegrass pasture and run 24,000 Merino ewes and 2400 Angus breeding cows.

We had a hailstorm towards the end of September, which caused fairly significant damage on a small part of the farm. We found it really difficult to get a quote for hail insurance that made sense, so for the first time in 20 years we have only taken out fire insurance.

Otherwise, things are setting up very well. The crops are looking above-average. We had a cool, mild and wet spring. The wheat is well-advanced for filling and we are looking at top-end yield potential. We were teetering on being too wet in the southern parts of the farm, but that dried up in the second half of September. We would now happily see another 10 to 15 millimetres of rain, and it looks like we might get that in early October.

We’ve been kept on our toes by mice, and we baited half of the crop area to reduce numbers before there was grain around for them to feed on. Our main disease issue is powdery mildew in wheat, but we have a robust fungicide strategy to make sure it doesn’t pop its head up.

Otherwise, one concern has been delays getting machinery. We have two harvesters and two swathers coming, and we can’t get the swathers, which is having an impact on our program. I think we will get a couple of fronts in time for harvest, but we are having to scramble to make other plans for swathing.


John Heard manages a family farm south of Cressy in the northern midlands, integrating crops and livestock. The family grows dryland wheat, barley and canola, and irrigated peas, hemp, ryegrass, chicory and beetroot seed. They have 5000 breeding ewes, 230 breeding cows and trade fat lambs.

The weather was relatively kind to us in winter and early spring, although it became quite wet throughout August and September, which caused some waterlogging issues. Some of the lower-lying areas have been affected, however they seem to be pulling out of it relatively well and we hope yields haven’t been hit too hard as a result.

There seemed to be a large outbreak of rust across most of north Tasmania in mid-September, after a couple of warmer-than-average weeks. Fortunately good fungicide chemistry was able to bring this under control quickly; however, we are still keeping a close eye on it as it’s likely to continue through the spring with ongoing rain events.

We may start harvesting barley and canola around Christmas; wheat we will push into early to mid-January with ryegrass, vegetables and other crops to follow. We have just started to sow spring barley, and are getting ready to sow peas, hemp and canola (which will be harvested, after grazing, in 2023-24).

Fertiliser has been going out again lately as we have been able to get back on the paddocks. Elsewhere on the farm we are lamb and calf marking, ensuring ryegrass crops are grazed adequately, winding-up winter maintenance and preparing to start irrigation when required over the next few weeks.

South Australia

Robert and Courtney Pocock with Robert’s parents Bruce and Gaye farm at Lamaroo in the southern Mallee. They grow wheat, barley, lupins, hay and vetch, and perennial pastures of lucerne and veldt grass for 1900 ewes, including 700 stud ewes.

After a brutal start (with only 45mm of rainfall to June), we’re humming along. Early spring was perfect with 75mm and mild conditions. It’s not often we get a September like that, and our loamy country responded well so we’re looking at crops a bit above-average.

Frost pressure was minimised because of the wet, suiting legumes beautifully. Early October was a dream for flowering and grain-fill and we started our hay program as planned.

We were a bit too wet for a little while for spraying, but had no waterlogging. There was pressure from powdery mildew and stripe rust in the cereals, but after hearing what was happening further north we got proactive and put out a preventive fungicide so we managed that all right.

We’ve been most impacted by our finances – being cautious because of the expense of urea and dry start. We might have lost some potential by not fertilising harder, but that’s just hindsight. My grandfather always said if you had Sunday’s paper on a Saturday, you’d win a lot of horse races.

Everything was still beautiful in October – green to the bottom and growing, so harvest will start in late November like old times. In the lead-up we’ll do some crop-topping, desiccating legumes and cereals with any grass weed problems. We’ve applied another fungicide and insecticide on the beans – they will get their normal love.

With wet conditions and 40mm overnight in early October, my biggest concern is quality loss and logistics if it keeps raining – just getting machinery through the paddocks.

New South Wales

Fiona and Craig Marshall run Bull Plain Farms at Rennie in the NSW Southern Riverina. Their main enterprises are dryland wheat, barley and canola, with some oats, lupins, faba beans and mixed-species pasture for 2200 crossbred ewes representing 10 per cent of the business.

Our crops are looking fabulous on the back of plenty of rainfall. In the last week of September, we applied our GS39 fungicide by air. We planned to apply a third fungicide spray to our Scepter wheat if moist and cool conditions persisted.

We added 70 kilograms/ha of extra urea to half of our wheat after assessing the seasonal outlook. Some wheat paddocks now have 270 to 290kg/ha of urea. We applied 350kg/ha of urea to one paddock to assess the response.

The canola had a bixafen plus prothioconazole (Aviator Xpro) at 30 per cent flowering. By the end of September, the canola was two metres high, and flowering had finished. We also monitored for heliothis.

Our best canola was planted into a lupin stubble. In future, we intend to grow more faba beans and lupins. Lime was carted for application in 2023.

Our barley looks good but may not produce the high yields we saw last year because of slight waterlogging.

Barley was our most profitable crop in 2021, followed by canola and wheat. We are bulking-up Catapult wheat for sowing early in 2023.

Since 1 October, we’ve been busy maintaining harvest machinery. In early November, we planned to start windrowing.


Luke and Sophie Bradley, with Luke’s parents Peter and Kerrie, farm near Orion in the Springsure district of the central highlands, about 300 kilometres toward the coast at the Boyne Valley. They grow sorghum, wheat, chickpeas and irrigated barley. They also run 370 beef cattle.

We cultivated 1600ha of soil into which we plan to plant sorghum. The constant rainfall made this a challenge. We only run disc planters. But this year, we put our offset disc to work on our heavy clay soils to better mix topsoil organic matter and stratified phosphorus through the subsurface soil. The offset has not done a perfect job, but we persisted and completed the work in early October.

After worrying about accessing enough urea for our sorghum, we have had no problems finding the tonnage we need.

We monitored our winter crops for insect pests and discovered heliothis on the barley on our coastal property and also on our wheat at Springsure. We have not had to treat the barley or wheat, but we have provided the chickpeas with one insecticide spray.

By early October, our chickpeas looked excellent after flowering and podding nicely.

We planned to start harvesting our barley by the end of the second week in October, which is late for us due to the wet and cool finish. The wheat was earmarked for harvest after the barley. We expected to be harvesting the chickpeas by the start of November following mild temperatures during early October.


Ben and Karli Findlay farm at Weatherboard, north-west of Ballarat at an elevation of 400 to 700 metres in an area subject to cool conditions, high rainfall and wind. They grow wheat, canola and faba beans and graze first-cross breeding ewes.

Battling the wet has been a huge drama. We had 713mm of rainfall to the end of September. At that time last year we had 655mm, and we thought that was wet. In some spots it’s a lake. About 10 per cent of the paddocks are wiped-out.

We had to be selective with urea application based on where we could go and where it would be most effective. Usually we would use nitrogen to combat water-stressed crops, but with prices so high and so much leaching in wet areas, we didn’t want to throw a heap out just to lose it. Application is down 25 per cent, averaging 300kg/ha on wheat and 350kg/ha on canola.

We’ve had high inputs for some time, so backing off for one year won’t hurt too much. But next year we’ll have to return to our program.

Our fungicide program was also affected by rain. In wheat, some areas missed fungicide at flag leaf and, in canola, 20 per cent missed out at flowering because it was too wet to get on to the paddocks.

This is not ideal because while Septoria remains our biggest disease, we’ve had the most rust pressure we’ve ever seen on the wheat. RGT Accroc is the most-affected.

But where it’s not too wet, the crops are looking great. A paddock of RGT Cesario (entered into the Hyper Yielding Crops awards) on a hill of ‘red spud’ dirt could set a record. It and BigRed have stood up in a high-disease-pressure year, as has the Pioneer 45Y95 Clearfield canola. So it’s not all doom and gloom.

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