Millet shows its worth as a versatile cover crop

Millet shows its worth as a versatile cover crop


Coarse Grains
(From left) Grower Dave Woods, Queensland DAF research agronomist Andrew Erbacher and MCA Goondiwindi agronomist Stuart Thorn in the trial site where Sunmax wheat has been planted into a defoliated and rolled white French millet cover crop. PHOTO Liz Wells

(From left) Grower Dave Woods, Queensland DAF research agronomist Andrew Erbacher and MCA Goondiwindi agronomist Stuart Thorn in the trial site where Sunmax wheat has been planted into a defoliated and rolled white French millet cover crop. PHOTO Liz Wells

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White French millet is proving a worthy inclusion in this familys five-year rotation.

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White French millet is proving a worthy inclusion in the Woods familys five-year rotation as a cover crop that holds soil in place during summer storms and gives following wheat crops access to increased reserves of subsoil moisture.

Dave Woods, who farms in partnership with his wife Alice and parents Geoff and Mary, was introduced to the crop in 2005, when researchers were looking for sites to trial cover crops as a means of reducing soil erosion in the GRDC-funded Eastern Farming Systems project.

We were pretty sceptical at first. We put our toe in the water and started to trial it, and year-in and year-out, we became more convinced, Dave says.

One of the great benefits of the millet is it increases the infiltration rate of storm rain we get in January and February, and that is what gives us better fallow efficiency. - Dave Woods

The Woods family crops a variety of soil types on their Toobeah property 80 kilometres north-west of Goondiwindi.

Dave says the millet is being used to cover-crop lighter undulating country in their rotation of wheat/chickpeas/wheat followed by a long fallow into double-skip sorghum, and a long fallow back into wheat.

One of the great benefits of the millet is it increases the infiltration rate of storm rain we get in January and February, and that is what gives us better fallow efficiency.

Dave says the familys commercial wheat crops sown into millet stubble have recorded yields of at least 15 per cent more than wheat planted into sorghum stubble alone, as well as improved germination.

The cover crop is ideally planted in late September, but has been sown as late as November when spring rains were slow to arrive, and is sprayed out with glyphosate at 60 days.

We have found our early planted millet sprayed out at mid-flowering has given us a yield advantage of 500 kilograms per hectare, and when we spray out later, it is more like a 300kg/ha advantage, Dave says.

When we started growing millet in our own rotation, we started with small plots of 20 to 50ha alongside the trials, and all we hoped for in dollar terms was for it to cover the cost of about $50/ha of planting and growing it.

What we have found in most years is that it gives us a yield benefit of at least $40/ha on top of that, and lets us plant earlier because we have more soil water closer to the surface.

A project being jointly funded by the GRDC and the Cotton Research and Development Corporation is taking a further look at the effectiveness of cover crops to bolster soil water reserves, and the Woods property is once again involved.

We know cover cropping is bringing us benefits, but it will be good to get some solid data around it through three years of trial results.

GRDC Research Code: DAQ00211

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