Mick Pole runs a cropping property at Walpeup in north-western Victoria. Enterprises include wheat, barley, lentils, occasional canola, as well as vetch, lupins and peas for brown manure.
We ended up losing about a fortnight in total of harvest time in late November due to rain (about 70mm in the last week of the month), but we still managed to harvest everything, and we achieved our targeted yields. We didn’t have damaging rain events in terms of our wheat, but I feel for those who have lentils or barley, and I’m sure there will be other areas and growers who are more disappointed with the weather than we were.
Our labour was really good during harvest, but machinery was a little bit disappointing when it comes to parts and some other issues. I always expect issues with machinery at harvest and can generally handle them, but there were a few more issues than usual this year. Reliability with accessing parts was a bit more annoying and unnecessary than I would have liked.
A lot of the wins we had this season were verifying things that we know. That means looking after your stored water, remaining optimistic about the season, setting target yields and going for it. Looking back from the end of the season, we were very fortunate to have a full profile of water – and we used it well. It’s important to start out with a positive view and set crops up with the best chance they can to access all the water. Overall, we had outstanding results given the amount of growing-season rain we received.
The rain at the end of November has us optimistic about next season already. We were leaning towards having a quieter year and thinking we might have lower-than-average targeted yields, but now we are optimistic about reaching targeted yields. We might slightly change our rotation based on normal average rainfall, even though there are predictions of another La Nina next year.
If it’s going to rain, we will go again – and I think the farm is set up well for that. The hardest challenge is making sure your farm is ready for tomorrow. We will probably deep-rip again, depending on how much rain we have in December.
Wayne and Jody Pech run North Stirling Downs Agriculture in WA’s Great Southern region. Established in 1961, the business is a mixed farm focusing on sustainable production of high-quality food and fibre. It employs seven staff. The mixed farm encompasses 13,000 hectares and 20,000 sheep and receives on average 350mm of rain a year.
We are looking at yields of about 3.5 tonnes per hectare for cereals and 1.5t/ha for canola, above our five-year average. With 225 millimetres of rainfall this calendar year (compared to the average 350mm) this means our water use efficiency is 18.5 kilograms per millimetre for cereals and 9.5kg/mm for canola, around our five-year average. Crop performance was bolstered by good soil moistures and a low disease load. However, with the abrupt end to the season we are looking at quite high screenings in our cereals.
Although we had staggered germination as we dry-sowed, one of our key takeaways from this season is the importance of getting crops in as early as possible to maximise the length of the growing season.
We are considering our variety choice for next season, maintaining RGT Planet barley in our portfolio for one more year but including the new Neo CL alongside Maximus . We will retain Scepter and the udon wheat variety Kinsei . Three canola varieties will be used that suit different rotations, soil types and we can match with paddock chemical history.
Although the sheep industry is hitting trying times, now is not the time to downsize our flock. We are considering the selection of pasture legumes going forward and may introduce vetch into our system as a good means to control weeds. We are also considering further developing our feedlot for our sheep to free-up paddocks for cropping and add flexibility to decisions to crop early.
Availability of labour had been a pressing issue for us throughout 2023 but we are looking to alleviate this going into 2024. Our eldest daughter will join us on the farm for the year and we have a Narrogin Agricultural graduate and a Marcus Oldham College practical-year student joining us too.
As a Marcus Oldham graduate myself, I can see the benefit of hosting a practical student. These students have to complete three assignments as part of their practical year and their lecturer visits during the year. We see the potential for co-learning through this experience – it will be interesting to see what insights are brought to our operations.
Together with two casual staff members from New Zealand for harvest, this means we will be flush with labour going into next season. It will enable us to catch up with maintenance of both equipment and our property.
I will continue my membership with AgZero 2030 going forward and plan to undertake another carbon audit of the property in 2024 working with Integrity Ag, Toowoomba. Measuring carbon emissions is all about making the property more sustainable.
I have grown a little wary of advocacy work in this space, though, as I have been saddened to see the nature of the debate unfolding on social media. However, all growers have a role to promote the positive story of Australian agriculture as a sustainable and innovative industry.
Follow Wayne @waynepech
James Venning, with his wife Lauren and parents Max and Therese, runs Barunga Grains at Bute, on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula. Enterprises include wheat, lentils, canola, barley and some lupins (in parts of paddocks where lentils cannot be grown).
We had a good run at harvest. Our lentils were fantastic – well above-average. The dry spell we had in July-August didn’t really affect them, because they don’t need much water until late August. Cereals were average, which is still good considering we had below-average rainfall. Canola was above-average because it has that deep-rooted system that can tap into the deeper water.
Overall, the season was pretty much as expected. Cereals were slightly disappointing compared to some incredible years we’ve had previously with not-much rain, but that’s not a reason to complain!
Soil amelioration proved very, very beneficial. In our sandy soils that have been limed and deep-ripped with inclusion plates, lentil yields were about double. Higher yields are usual in most years, but not double! I think having a good, healthy root system in that dry period meant that the crop didn’t stress. That was amazing in the lentils, and beneficial in barley. That was a good take-home message – soil amelioration paid for itself in one year.
We have limed the whole farm, but will continue to ramp-up the soil amelioration a bit more. We will also do some spading to fix the non-wetting sands.
Also, where we had to cut back nitrogen, that probably cost us a grade. Using bagged nitrogen is definitely worth doing if you have to ration it when there’s a short supply. You can see in the crops where you rationed it.
We sowed half our lentils in an early phase (April), and I think we will be doing more early sowing, because the early sown ones were fantastic. They get more time for root exploration, which really helps. So it’s a good thing to keep pushing lentils earlier and earlier, and we will have more lentils in the ground next year, and probably less canola. We need to do a bit more exploration, but we are finding that with wheat on canola, we are hosting more root lesion nematode, which is costing us yield in a wheat crop after canola versus wheat after a legume.
Nigel Corish and his family run New Leaf Ag at Condamine on Queensland’s Western Downs, purchased in 2017 after a move from Goondiwindi. The main enterprises are dryland and irrigated cereal and cotton cropping.
It has been interesting coming out of this dry period and seeing what weed pressure is like. Despite a lack of rain, we have still noticed weeds and have kept the camera sprayer on ‘maintenance mode’ to keep on top of them. We have certainly reduced our chemical usage doing this – just five to 10 per cent of what we usually use. The result is clean paddocks and now that we’ve had some rain, we will continue to keep on top of weeds.
Harvest was all wrapped up by early November. And while we were mostly happy with the results, our chickpeas didn’t go well. There was unexpected frost damage, probably from the 2-3°C days in September.
Sorghum was planted in early December. That decision was touch-and-go. With a long dry spell, we didn’t know if we would need to change our rotational plans and wait to plant a winter crop instead. We were waiting patiently for rain to come, and it did, in differing amounts too. We have two farms in Condamine 14 kilometres apart. One received 60 to 70mm of rain in one week, while the other received 150mm. It just shows the differences in rainfall.
Looking back on the year, we have made some investments. We purchased a wheel track renovator. After the wet year, we needed to repair some tracks. We have also purchased a self-propelled sprayer; essentially an update on the old one. Both investments are a way for us to keep on top of machinery and repairs.
Sustainability-wise, we are still very much focused on cover cropping. We will plant sorghum and millet as brown cover crops in our fallow paddocks this summer. We’ll spray them out after a month or so. Cover crops are important for reducing evaporation and weeds.
New South Wales
Broden Holland and his family grow dryland wheat, canola and faba beans across 4400 hectares and run 6000 wethers near Thuddungra, north-west of Young in southern NSW.
We received about 60mm of rain in late November but only had 200ha of wheat to harvest, so we feel fortunate because the wheat was barely ready.
Our team started harvest on 28 October due to the dry finish. We are happy with the performance of our two John Deere X9 harvesters. They have allowed us to consistently harvest more than 50 tonnes/hour with about 0.8 per cent losses. There were no issues harvesting in damp conditions.
Our grain yields have been good. The canola averaged 2.2 tonnes per hectare, and the wheat will average about 4.7t/ha. Our BigRed yields might be 200 kilograms/ha behind the Scepter yields, which is understandable because of the dry finish. BigRed yielded about 300kg/ha better than Lancer , which averaged 4.5t/ha.
Scepter was our best-yielding wheat, which averaged 5.3t/ha. We had a dry finish, so we are happy with that result.
The faba beans averaged 2.7t/ha, which was pleasing, given it was our first time growing them. We sowed them at 150kg/ha and then double-sowed a strip to assess the difference. The faba beans sown at 150kg/ha were okay. We have a couple of buyers that are interested in the grain. Our acid throttle might have constrained the grain yields. We will discuss the merits of sowing faba beans again before planting after seeing the results of the deep nitrogen tests.
In the next two months, our priorities are summer spraying, carting grain and spreading gypsum and lime.
In the future, we plan to run two self-propelled sprayers. We will keep our existing machine and buy one without a camera system. During winter, this will enable me to do other jobs rather than spending all my time on the sprayer. My father and I will share the work so we know what is going on in the paddocks, but the new sprayer will allow us to complete the work more quickly.