Owner: Brent Morton
Location: West Wyalong, New South Wales
Area: 2000 hectares
Average annual rainfall: 455 millimetres
Soil types: red kurrajong country, black clay
Crops: canola, wheat, barley
Running a cropping enterprise as well as a spray contracting business about 35 kilometres north-east of Lake Cowal in central New South Wales, Brent Morton has gained a lot of experience in summer weed management through the years.
Hands-on experience on both his own and other farms in the area has shown Brent that getting on top of summer weeds early is crucial in cost-efficient and effective fallow management.
“Get them while they’re young and they’re not sucking up so much moisture,” he says. “Summer moisture is key to growing. It’s the start of your next year, so if you can optimise that moisture profile, you’re a long way down the track for next year’s crop.”
Persistence is also required, with double knocks now becoming Brent’s standard approach to ensuring weeds are eradicated as far as possible. He finds that if summer weeds are managed effectively, there is much more room for early sowing opportunities that can also help with in-crop weed management.
“You can get it up and growing out of the ground and hopefully outcompete any weeds that do come.”
However, each year brings its own challenges and 2021 was no different with the wet weather, allowing weeds to appear in full force. “It’s a bit more of a reactive rather than proactive situation (in 2021),” he says.
Another wet year
While in the dry years of 2018 and 2019 the challenge for Brent was to get enough yield to be profitable, the wetter years of 2020 and 2021 have come with greater yields but their own challenges. In 2021, the wet ground made it difficult to get out on to paddocks.
“With our canola crops we just couldn’t spray our grasses when we needed to. So they haven’t been as great and clean a crop as what they could have been.”
Brent’s area was also hit by the mouse plague earlier in the year.
“We knew they were coming but we didn’t expect the numbers. We had to resow it, and then they got into the silo bags and there was a fair bit of damage done.”
Despite the challenges it has nonetheless been a rewarding couple of years, with Brent looking at double the expected yield for his canola in 2021-22. Hand-in-glove with a good season, however, are weeds and Brent knows they have to be a management priority – “especially this year with a Roundup® shortage and high prices. So the aim will be to treat early so we can use lower rates.”
However, the wet ground still presented a challenge. Brent says it was a race between him and the weeds getting on to paddocks first. “We’ve got planes flying doing a fair bit of fallow spraying as well I think.”
Brent’s controlled-traffic farming (CTF) approach does, however, provide some assistance by reducing the chance of bogging and, as summer advances, also lessens the dust. “I can get back on that country probably two or three days before guys that don’t have controlled traffic.”
Along with CTF, Brent incorporates precision agriculture into his practices where he can, but feels that zoning weeds is not currently viable due to the need to be fast and adaptable. “By the time you get all those maps back, your rates have changed and the weed spectrum has changed.”
Time and cost efficiency
Along with overseeing a prompt weed response on his own property, Brent also manages a spray contracting business that adds further challenges to managing timing.
“I know 10 days after rain that client growers are going to want to spray, so that gives me time to work my spraying around that. It’s a bit of a juggle though.”
With high chemical prices, the camera sprayers will probably come to the fore this year.
Equipment is another area where Brent strives for efficiency gains. He currently has a 36-metre tow-behind boom sprayer with an 8500-litre tank and a tiered spray system, and has also recently invested in a self-propelled sprayer.
“I just found with spraying, and spreading as well, I had the tractor tied up doing one thing when I could have been doing the other as well. So self-propelled will hopefully make that a bit easier.
“The self-propelled sprayer has all the new nozzle type set-ups and the air-assist boom will help improve water rates and coverage in-crop.”
Looking ahead, Brent is investigating camera sprayers. “I think once again, with high chemical prices, the camera sprayers will probably come to the fore this year.”
When it comes to weed seed management, Brent has tried a few different approaches. Last year he trialled chaff lining, but so far he has found windrow burning the most effective.
“With such a heavy load I just couldn’t physically get it out of the chaff lining chute. We’ll windrow burn a bit this year. Just on a few problem paddocks.”
Moving forward, he feels that weed seed destructors on headers will be his next move when he next gets the opportunity to update headers.
Even with the many trials and tribulations that all growers have endured in recent years, Brent still has an optimistic outlook for the future and continues to nurture a passion for grain growing.
“I think there’s a fantastic future for grain growers. We’ve got three young kids and I’ve watched them come back on the farm and enjoy the lifestyle that we’ve had and the benefits that come from this.
“There’s definitely highs and lows to it. And we’ve had all those in the last couple of years with mouse plagues and droughts and floods. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. What we do is exciting and rewarding.”