Alex and Kate Clarke farm with Alex’s parents Tom and Amanda in a mixed operation at Campbell Town in the northern midlands. They grow wheat, barley, field peas, poppies, forage rape, oats, turnips, tillage radish, white clover and annual ryegrass, and run 7000 self-replacing Merino ewes.
It’s been hectic. We had a heap of snow in early August – a one-in-100-year event. It covered the place and a couple of mates and I skied down our hill.
The snow won’t hurt the crop but it came with 60 millimetres of rain so the winter crops – wheat and barley – got a bit waterlogged. They’d had a bit of a slow start and a dry July, so ultimately the rain will be of benefit. As soon as it warms up we’ll put some nitrogen down to kick them along.
We had just put in about 90 hectares of poppies but, fingers crossed, the rain hasn’t done too much damage. We’d also sown 30ha of peas the week before and they don’t like a lot of water sitting on top. It doesn’t help their germination so we may need to re-sow.
The rain has probably put the spring sowing regime back a couple of weeks but it won’t take long to dry out. And we’ve now got full dams so we’ll be able to do everything we planned.
In September there will be some poppies going in and some canning peas in October. And I’m trialling 20ha of maize. We’re trying to get the right variety for the area, playing around with that.
We got a lot of grazing out of the irrigated Manning (PBR) winter wheat before the sheep came off in late August. Our biggest risk was their impact on the wet soil – we had to juggle them on and off. We had to keep our lambs a few weeks longer than usual because of abattoir restrictions from coronavirus. But that was okay; we just moved them around.
I’ve also discovered that mountain ducks love chicory. There’s been 2000 of them in a new paddock I planted this year so I’ve been scaring them off every other day.
Brothers Kevin and Geoff Bond farm at Mannum in the Murray Mallee region. This year they are growing wheat, barley, oats, canola, lentils, vetch and triticale.
With a crop-saving 18mm in early August our crops returned to great potential. We’re optimistic that with average rainfall from here we’ll get above-average yields.
Several frosts through July had slowed growth and set back the spraying and rolling program. Jobs were continuous, with urea spreading on the cereals and canola happening with limited opportunities. Spraying was almost finished with a timely fungicide on the vetch and lentils before the August rain.
Pests have been very kind. Some vetch was sprayed for cutworm and insecticide applied as a seed dressing in canola and cereals, along with bare earth treatment on the canola.
With the lack of weed pressure, August saw the end of herbicide spraying. Hay oats were sprayed with a late fungicide, which aims to maintain a ‘green crop’ favourable for Chinese export markets. And its also helps prevent fungal growth if the cut crop gets rained on.
As spring progresses, pests and diseases will be monitored and a fungicide and copper application, which is important for pollination, done as necessary. We will also apply a late fungicide on wheat in September to protect the flag leaf.
Derek and Rhonda Young and two of their three children, Mikayla and Braden, farm at Kulin, in the state’s central wheatbelt. They grow equal amounts of wheat, canola, barley and lupins in rotation and run 200 Dorper sheep for meat production.
We’ve been waiting for that one decent rain and it never seems to quite get here but the crops are performing quite well despite that. We’ve had just over half the average growing-season rainfall but in small amounts frequently and I think that’s a critical point. It seems to be enough.
Our canola is exceptional. It flowered very early and, being cool, we didn’t get those hot days that cut flowering off. We’re hopeful it will pod up quite well. It will probably be our big money-earner.
Lupins look great but they’re not very tall. Cereals are tillering quite well and they’ve got potential. And the barley should make average yields quite comfortably.
We’ve had good root development with the dry start with no waterlogging issues, so if there is a dry finish the root system should be able to find some moisture. But we’re all looking for a wet September. We still need that one big rain.
Through July we were managing weeds with a broadleaf spray. We applied extra nitrogen on canola to give it a boost because it was performing well. Barley also got a nitrogen top-up and a fungicide spray in August.
We’ve seen very little disease and insect pressure but we’re doing sweeps and insect counts in canola and lupins. There will probably be more insect pressure in spring but, given the canola flowered early, it will be well ahead of most insect issues. So that’s good.
We’ll do late weed management in late September, desiccating canola and lupins as they ripen off. And we’ve got some work to do on the machinery before harvest so we’ve pulled that out to have a look.
We managed to take some time off in July, but coming out of the coronavirus lockdown everyone went south to the coast. It was like Easter weekend. It was crazy.
Andrew and Sue Russell, with children James and Philippa, run Lilliput Ag in Rutherglen, north-eastern Victoria, growing wheat, barley, triticale, oats, canola, safflower, lupins, subclover and arrowleaf clover. They run 2200 crossbred ewes for a fat lamb operation and a small herd of breeder cattle.
A wise old man once told me that in a good year you look at the worst crops and in a poor year look at your best crops. And it’s the truth.
We had a bit of a wet period, which restricted what we could do. Trafficability was a big issue. Some canola struggled with waterlogging. But I’m not complaining.
The vast majority is looking very good. We top-dressed in August, trying to put out enough nitrogen to match top-end yields. Costs are higher because the potential’s there. We’ve got a bucket of moisture; we just need to dodge some frosts and heat events before harvest.
We see bigger impacts from disease with moist conditions, so the decision to use fungicide at sowing was a good one. All our fertiliser was treated with a full rate of Flutriafol at the start of the year. Fungicide applications in the August/September spray program started with canola. We plan to be strategic and mix the fungicides up to reduce the chance of resistance developing. We managed disease in more-vulnerable wheat crops with grazing. Livestock came off the crops in early August and on to legume-based pasture for lambing.
Things are a bit earlier this year. Canola started flowering in early August, which could be a problem should we have a late run of frosts in September.
All of these things play into the decision-making balancing investment and risk.
I spoke on a podcast with GRDC talking about nitrogen decisions in a good year like this. The holy grail is keeping potential while managing risk. We take a modest, proactive approach so if we get impacted, we can manage it.
The coronavirus has also made life a bit more difficult because pretty much all our supplies/inputs come out of Corowa or Albury, over the river (in NSW). I have about 10 permits for different suppliers, but if I go to the supermarket while there, I’m breaking the law. But we just deal with it. The impact on us isn’t huge and we are happy to do what we have to, to get over this virus as soon as possible.
New South Wales
Peter and Toni Unger farm north of Parkes, in central-western NSW, helped by their four sons when they are not at school. They grow wheat, barley, canola, lupins and some oats, and have 1600 self-replacing Merino ewes, about 30 per cent of the enterprise.
The script is still playing out perfectly. You probably couldn't ask for any better. The crops are looking fantastic, especially coming off a couple of very low-yielding years. We’ve been getting rain about every 10 days and it’s been very mild. We’re about two to three weeks in front of a normal season.
We’ve not spread a lot of nitrogen because we sowed with it and our soil tests came back with adequate levels after it built up in the dry years. We did a little variable-rate urea spreading on canola, putting more on thinner patches to try to get them to tiller up. On 150ha of wheat we did the reverse, with a higher rate on thicker areas.
Frost becomes a risk with the crops flowering earlier but we’ve had less this year and it hasn’t been cold for long.
We applied fungicide to canola a few weeks earlier than usual, in early August, to prevent sclerotinia and are looking out for fungal diseases like Net blotch in barley and rusts in susceptible wheat varieties. They’re challenges that are amplified in a season with a lot of moisture around. With thicker canopies the crop doesn’t get a chance to dry out during the day, so those fungal diseases can get a wriggle on.
This year has shown up how much Roundup-resistant ryegrass we have. Because of the early break it’s a fair size, standing out from the crop. I’m weighing up whether to spray it, cut it for hay before it seeds or wipe it out by ploughing.
In September, there’s not much we can really do. All the rust and fungicide sprays will be out, so crop-wise we’ll just sit back and watch it.
Andrew and Margie Milla are share farmers near Surat, in western Queensland. They grow wheat, chickpeas and sorghum on their dryland country and wheat, mungbeans, sorghum, cotton and chickpeas under irrigation.
It’s been very busy. We took a couple of weeks off in July at the Sunshine Coast before our new baby arrived. Georgie was born on 31 July – on my birthday! And I pretty much haven’t drawn a breath since.
We had less than 10mm of rain from planting to early August so it was very dry and the pivots haven’t really stopped. We were lucky to get big rains in March that allowed us to pump into our storages. It’s given us enough water to grow the winter crop, plus early sorghum for ratooning that we’ll plant when the soil is warm enough and the air temperature’s on the rise – about now. I hit those paddocks with residual herbicides to be activated by forecast August rain.
There were a few big days before that 15mm of rain, putting fungicide on irrigated wheat and durum. It’s good timing with the flag leaf fully emerged. We have to keep on top of our fungicide program because we’re constantly irrigating using an overhead system.
Faba beans got a fungicide and also an insect spray. There was just enough numbers of heliothis grubs to warrant it. The fabas look fantastic, nearly up to my chest.
The dryland wheat was starting to struggle in the dry conditions. The deep-planted crop was already coming to head in early August, which presents a frost risk. But the August rain will help it advance at a better pace. Because it’s been dry we’ve only had to do an in-crop spray for broadleaf weeds in our deep-planted wheat and nothing else. The crops are very clean, but I’d be happier if we’d had a heap of rain and I had weeds to spray.