Tom Johnstone and his family are juggling the dual demands of cropping and producing livestock on about 1650 hectares across five farms they run between Cowra and Woodstock, in central-western New South Wales.
About 95 per cent of their farming area is arable and, for the balance, they are choosing rotations and varieties that maximise cropping yields and also create a feed wedge by producing enough high-quality biomass to allow stock to gain weight.
Long-season wheats, such as Manning (PBR) and LongReach Kittyhawk (PBR), are proving themselves to be able performers in this space for the Johnstones.
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The family runs about 200 Angus cows and calves, and 800 Dorper ewes across the farms. They aim to turn off steers at a minimum weight of 400 kilograms, while Dorper lambs are sold at four to five months, or at weights of 42 to 48kg.
Crop varieties earmarked for grazing are ideally used over crunch feed gap times in autumn and winter, prior to being locked up to produce big yields of grain or canola. But the Johnstones vary their expectations of crops, depending on the season.
Family decisions about what varieties to plant have been aided by a five-year involvement in GRDC-invested high-rainfall zone trials. Tom says these have helped identify attributes of different varieties, especially long-season growth patterns that suit mixed farming.
What the simulations showed us was we could make changes that would still allow us to produce a seven tonnes/ha wheat crop in high-rainfall zones in a good season, he says.
At the same time we are producing feed for our stock by growing longer-season varieties.
Recently the Johnstones have grown Manning (PBR) , a long-season, dual-purpose, white-grained feed wheat.
Tom says Manning (PBR) can be sown in March, grazed through the winter period and then locked up to produce silage, hay or grain. If the season goes with them, and provides good rains, Manning (PBR) has the potential to yield 6 to 7t/ha of wheat, on top of the grazing benefits.
We really like what Manning (PBR) can do in terms of feed for our stock and grain, and we know that this variety also has resistance to wheat streak mosaic virus, he says..
Last year (2018) we had grazed it longer than we normally would because we needed the feed for our stock in a dry season.
But this actually might work in our favour, as Manning (PBR) tends to grow a big biomass in spring and then come in late to harvest. By locking it up for longer, we think it will grow less of that biomass and put more into grain production through spring.
The Johnstones have also planted LongReach Kittyhawk (PBR), another long-season variety that is showing promise, despite the low rainfall in the district in 2018.
With rainfall of just 180 millimetres between January and late August, and only 100mm from March on, the Johnstones know their careful selection of varieties has been vital to getting the most out of a tough season.
What the simulations showed us was we could make changes that would still allow us to produce a seven tonnes/ha wheat crop in high-rainfall zones in a good season.
Tom says their decision to always have their sowing gear set up to have their primary tyne go down as deep as 20 centimetres might also have helped them utilise stored soil moisture at depth.
We had our knife point go down 15 to 20cm and it did make it easier for the roots of the plants to go down to that moisture, he says.
We had a warm autumn and were smashed by frosts in the middle of the growing season, but we were lucky enough to get 28mm in May and 37mm in June, which allowed the crops to get going.
The Johnstones have used grazing of canola with mixed results, and Tom says they need to learn how to better manage cattle on the oilseed to maximise its potential.
Weve had a few losses with cattle grazing canola, and I think it is really better suited to sheep, but we will work on ways to manage this better because it does have huge potential, he says.
When the spring flush of feed comes, the Johnstones lock up their paddocks, taking stock off to allow the crops to recover to produce either enough biomass to bale for silage or hay, or go through to harvest for grain production.
This means they need to have enough conserved feed hay, silage or grain to carry them through until stubble is available for grazing. Despite the juggling required, Tom says they are happy to keep livestock in their enterprise mix. They are also including more pulses in rotations to feed the higher nitrogen requirements of their cropping system.
GRDC Project Code: DAV00116
More information: Tom Johnstone, firstname.lastname@example.org