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Multiple benefits arise from cropping diversity

Third-generation grower Rebecca Kelly in a Devil (PBR) wheat crop, which followed a Fran2o (PBR) serradella seed crop. Crop diversity on her family farm is integral for pest and weed management as well as providing alternative market options.
Photo: Evan Collis

Niche crops and a range of skills are key components of the Kelly family’s farm management at Mingenew, 383 kilometres north of Perth.

Paul Kelly had been farming for more than 40 years on a property his parents originally settled in 1950. Paul and his wife Sue expanded the enterprise to 3200 hectares by purchasing a neighbouring farm in 1992. But the couple moved off the property five years ago to make way for the next generation to return to the farm. Rebecca is one of their three daughters and she has returned to the farm equipped with an agribusiness degree from Marcus Oldham College in Victoria.

“After many years working extensively in the travel industry through the Americas and Europe, the challenge of returning to the farm was an opportunity not to be missed,” Rebecca says.

Returning to the farm with an agribusiness degree meant my training complemented my father’s agronomic experience.

The farm has numerous different soil types, ranging from blue clay through to beach sand, producing many challenges such as acidity and non-wetting soils.

“Adding to this challenge is a significant annual rainfall decline over the last 30 years from 450 millimetres to around 390mm,” Rebecca says.

Paul had a long-time interest in niche crops to both add diversity of species to the farming system and also to diversify markets. He was one of the first growers in the region to adopt canola in the early 1990s.

“There has a been a suite of crops grown, including paprika, potatoes, coriander, aniseed, Japanese chilli and guayule with mixed success,” Rebecca says.

However, they have had success with several different pasture species and hold commercial licences to produce a few for seed, including the Fran2o™ and Margurita varieties of serradella.

“Serradella is tolerant of acid soils, a great nitrogen fixer to build soil health and provides a break crop opportunity to use different herbicides,” Rebecca says.

We can also spread the workload throughout the season by producing pasture seed as we can use weed wipers to deal with problem weeds like wild radish within the pastures.

Information and support are important when it comes to producing these niche crops and how best to integrate them into farming systems. To this end, Paul always worked closely with other innovative growers, the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development and GRDC. Rebecca continues this search for new information through joining grower networks and attending industry events.

Read: New pool quenches Tasmanian feed grain thirst.

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