Twin stock and crop goals at Henty

Simplicity and efficiency guide mixed farm management in southern NSW


Grower Stories
Rohan Bahr and Kellie Penfold with their 15-year-old daughter Eliza on their farm near Henty, in southern New South Wales. PHOTO Nicole Baxter

Rohan Bahr and Kellie Penfold with their 15-year-old daughter Eliza on their farm near Henty, in southern New South Wales. PHOTO Nicole Baxter

Aa

Business streamlined and harvest out-sourced to maximise efficiency and free-up capital.

Aa

Snapshot:

  • Growers: Rohan Bahr and Kellie Penfold
  • Location: Henty, New South Wales
  • Farm size: 1600 hectares over two sites
  • Average annual rainfall (201318): 584 millimetres
  • Soil types: grey loam with gravel ridges
  • Soil pH (calcium chloride): 5
  • Enterprises: cropping, wool and prime lambs
  • Crop rotation: wheat/canola/wheat/canola/pasture for eight to 10 years.

Rohan Bahr and Kellie Penfold say simplicity and efficiency are the overarching priorities for the mixed farms they run east of Henty, in southern New South Wales.

The husband-and-wife team grows wheat, canola, wool and prime lambs across 1600 hectares over two separate sites about 50 kilometres south-west of Wagga Wagga, NSW.

During the past 18 years, Rohan and Kellie have streamlined the business, choosing to use contractors at harvest to maximise efficiency and free-up capital to buy land.

When the pair took over the business from Rohans father Neil in 2000, cattle were a part of the mix.

But, since then, the cattle have been sold and now 3000 Merino ewes are run, with one third joined to terminal sires for prime lambs and two thirds to Merino sires for wool.

The next step we are considering is simplifying our livestock enterprise further and just running a pure Merino flock, Kellie says.

Rohan Bahr and Kellie Penfold are considering simplifying their sheep enterprise. PHOTO Nicole Baxter

Rohan Bahr and Kellie Penfold are considering simplifying their sheep enterprise. PHOTO Nicole Baxter

Rohan says the 800ha grain enterprise has also been simplified.

In the past, we grew several grazing wheats, a couple of main-season wheats, triticale, lupins, oats, several triazine-tolerant (TT) canola varieties and Clearfield® canola, he says.

Now we only grow two wheats and three canola varieties.

Early sowing

The adoption of early-sown grazing canola and winter wheat has also enabled sowing efficiency to be maximised by allowing Rohan to complete the sowing program on his own.

For example, in 2018, Rohan started sowing on 28 March with Hyola 970CL canola, then moved to the grazing wheat LongReach Kittyhawk (PBA), the quick-developing canola Hyola 650TT, ATR Bonito (TT), and finished with EGA Gregory (PBA) on 23 May.

Rohan also handles most of the summer spraying on his own, focusing his efforts on the canola stubbles to minimise moisture evaporation.

I like to keep the canola country free of weeds so its easier to direct-drill the wheat straight into the stubble, he says.

We allow some weeds to grow on our wheat stubble for sheep feed, do a later spray and then burn the residue just before sowing.

However, in 2018, Rohan says the benefits of early summer spraying were noticeable because of the drier seasonal conditions.

Last year I left some paddocks and sprayed them late and saw a 1 tonne/ha yield difference, he says.

Ideally weeds need to be sprayed early when theyre small, but its a challenge with 3000 ewes to feed.

Another lesson learned from 2018 was the value of sowing crops dry.

We start sowing on a date, whether its dry or not, Rohan says.

However, he admits 2018 tested his nerves when the temperature reached 30°C and no rainfall was in sight.

He says he valued the support of his consultant Greg Condon.

Id finish a block and ring Greg and say gee, its a bit hot and dry and hed say keep going, and so I did and it worked, Rohan says.

While the couples 2018 grain profit will be 25 per cent lower than previous years, Kellie and Rohan say they still averaged 3t/ha for their wheat and 1.2t/ha for the canola. Their long-term average for wheat is 5t/ha and for canola 2.5t/ha.

Id finish a block and ring Greg and say gee, its a bit hot and dry and hed say keep going, and so I did and it worked. - NSW grower Rohan Bahr

Climate change

Annual rainfall has fluctuated during the past six years across Rohan and Kellies farm, varying from 451 millimetres in 2018 to 850mm in 2016.

And, while their rainfall figures might seem high, they are quick to point out their best grain yields are achieved when conditions are not too wet.

A lack of moisture isnt our biggest challenge, Kellie says.

The wet years are our worst years.

With shallow topsoils over rock subsoils, Rohan says the soil becomes waterlogged in wet years.

Direct-drilling and adding gypsum have helped a lot, he says.

In 2016, I didnt expect to harvest anything, but we didnt do too bad compared with when we previously worked our soils. In those years we wouldnt have harvested anything.

When it comes to seasonal conditions, Rohan and Kellie have noticed a shift in when it rains.

In the past we were lucky to record 20mm of late-season rain, Kellie says.

But in 2017 we recorded 102mm in December and in 2018 we had 120mm in November.

Although December rainfall can be conserved with spraying, Rohan says November rainfall is frustrating, especially when harvesting. Nonetheless, if spraying is necessary and Rohan is busy with other tasks, a spray contractor will be hired.

Another challenge, Kellie says, is the emotional strain of having to deal with trying to plan and manage farming operations in seasons with an indeterminate outlook and constantly changing short-term rainfall forecasts, as experienced last season.

It makes planning for urea spreading difficult and we seem to have more one-off weather events where we spend two days pulling branches off fences and fixing up parts of paddocks where water has run, she says.

Opportunities

In future, Rohan and Kellie are keen to expand, but say finding land nearby for a viable price is becoming increasingly difficult.

Land here is worth about $10,000/ha and is tightly held, Kellie says.

Expansion opportunities are limited.

To boost production, Kellie aims to look at ways to lift crop water use efficiency in high-rainfall areas.

About 10 years ago we started growing 5 to 6t/ha wheat crops without too much drama, she says.

How do we move to growing 6 to 7t/ha wheat crops?

Kellie says she is aware of recent GRDC investments into R&D about hyper-yielding cereals and will assess the results that have potential for adaptability to the Henty environment.

Land here is worth about $10,000/ha and is tightly held...expansion opportunities are limited. - NSW grower Kellie Penfold

To deal with seasonal variability, Rohan says he is interested in selecting wheat varieties with good sprouting tolerance, especially if November rainfall becomes regular.

He says Whistler seems to better tolerate rain at harvest than EGA Wedgetail (PBR).

More information: Rohan Bahr and Kellie Penfold, 02 6036 6158, agrimedia@albury.net.au

Aa