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Grain-and-graze canola proves a ‘game changer’

Oxton Park cropping manager Pat O’Connor, CSIRO’s Dr John Kirkegaard and Harden Murrumburrah Landcare Group’s Louise Hufton check moisture under a canola crop on the O’Connor family’s mixed farm near Harden, New South Wales.
Photo: Nicole Baxter

Pat O’Connor says grain-and-graze canola has been a ‘game changer’ for his family’s 100-year-old mixed-farming business in southern New South Wales.

The Harden grower, who manages a 4000-hectare cropping program at Oxton Park, first heard about grain-and-graze canola about 15 years ago when CSIRO’s Dr John Kirkegaard offered him a cup of tea from his thermos.

Dr Kirkegaard was visiting Oxton Park to check crops at the Harden long-term trial site, which was set up in 1990 to explore crop performance under zero tillage.

“I would often pull up a chair with John on the edge of the trial site and he’d tell me what cropping methods he thought would work in the future,” Pat says.

“One day he said: ‘You know Pat, we’ve been testing winter canola at our research station in Canberra and I think it will have a huge impact on agriculture’.”

While Pat was initially skeptical, the conversation led the O’Connor family to be one of the first to trial winter canola. The results showed their one-hectare trial could be grazed for six weeks at 30 dry sheep equivalents.

Indeed, this forward-thinking approach was typical of the researchers and growers from the Harden Murrumburrah Landcare Group who supported the trial site during its 30-year life.

Over the past three years, Hyola® 970CL has cemented its place in the O’Connor family’s crop rotation because it can be sown in early March, grazed in winter and harvested for grain. As a consequence, Pat sows Hyola® 970CL across 190ha, mainly because it taps into moisture four metres below the soil surface.

The winter feed created by Hyola® 970CL and 240ha of Endeavour triticale has helped supplement feed for the family’s 30,000 sheep.

Pat says his highest yield for the variety was recorded in 2017, after a wet winter and a dry spring.

“Hyola® 970CL has been a godsend, because in that year it yielded 3.4 tonnes/ha of grain, after eight weeks of grazing,” he says.

“In future, I hope we’ll see a winter canola developed, with a longer hypocotyl for deeper sowing into moisture, which flowers earlier than current winter types to maximise yield across more seasons.”

In late April, Pat sowed canola around the Harden long-term trial site. Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, CSIRO could not plant canola across the site until late May. This was typical of farm practice in 1990.

The growth advantage of the April-sown canola demonstrates how significantly farming practices have changed, in part because of the growers, researchers, agronomists and consultants who worked together at the site to look for scientific explanations to overcome on-farm constraints.

GRDC Research Codes DAN316, CSP244, CSP244, CSO201, CSP329, CRF00002, DAN152, CSP00174, CSP00186

More information: John Kirkegaard, 0458 345 630,; Louise Hufton, 0499 166 279,; Pat O’Connor, 0407 267 213,

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