Rain delivers early season opportunities

Growers reporting optimism after early season rainfall

Grower Stories

Growers participating in a GroundCover series are reporting encouraging levels of rainfall.

Each year GroundCover™follows a group of growers from across Australia as they manage the winter cropping season. This is the third instalment for 2019, with growers generally optimistic thanks to some early season rain.

Tasmanian Northern MIdlands grower Simon Burgess says surface draining is valuable because it makes crops more even. PHOTO Supplied

Tasmanian Northern MIdlands grower Simon Burgess says surface draining is valuable because it makes crops more even. PHOTO Supplied

Simon Burgess farms at Conara in the Northern Midlands of Tasmania, as an operating partner in a private equity business. He crops wheat, canola, poppies, barley and faba beans. He also runs 300 Angus breeders, backgrounds and agists steers for Tas Feedlot, trades lambs and has a breeding flock of 2500 ewes.

If we go early we get nailed by frost, so we started sowing our canola in early May and cereals a week later. We'd already had all our fodder, break crop, green manures and biofumigation crops in.

Our dual-purpose wheat was grazed during April and will be shut up in August. It's all about managing the residuals so you don't graze out the growing point. In early April we planted a paddock trialling a new long-season wheat, RGT Relay. We also set up a trial with Southern Farming Systems looking at pre and post-emergent herbicide effectiveness controlling resistant rye grass.

Conara, Tasmania, grower Simon Burgess. PHOTO Supplied

Conara, Tasmania, grower Simon Burgess. PHOTO Supplied

Our autumn planting of canola, wheat and barley continued through June. Our spring plant of faba bean, barley and poppies begins in August. We apply all our lime and gypsum prior to poppies and the spring crop going in.

A lot of our country is irrigated, so we can use the irrigator to activate the pre-emergents, if we need to, which we did in two paddocks. All surface draining was done by May. It's invaluable for us because it makes the crop so much more even.


Extra plantings of green manure crops and tillage radish under relatively dry conditions allowed us to take on an extra 1300 agistment cattle and 2700 trading lambs and we have traded stock or moved them around so we don't compromise soil structure. In the coming weeks (July) we will continue post-emergent broadleaf spraying in the cereals and gear-up for spring planting and de-stocking as we require paddocks to be put into fallow for poppies.

Bernard and Simone Lindsay farm at Lah, in Victoria's northern Wimmera. They grow wheat, barley, canola, lentils, faba beans and vetch for hay. They also run 600 Merino ewes.

We had a ripping start. Some thunderstorm rain in late April linked with subsoil moisture from summer rain and saw all of our dry-sown crops emerge out of the ground. Then in the first 10 days of May the farm had 30 to 50 millimetres. My disc seeder doesn't like the wet so we stopped sowing when we were about three-quarters through for a couple of weeks, but it was a welcome delay. We also hung back a bit to get a weed germination for a kill which has also worked in our favour.

Another positive of the early rain was it germinated the seed sown for our stock. Our sheep graze a 'chem' fallow - barley and vetch - that I'll spray out in August. After our sheep feed and vetch hay we sowed canola and Trojan (PBR) wheat and a bit of barley. We put in a few lentils to mix it up and finished off at the end of May with wheat, barley and lentils. To spread risk, especially frost, we mix up wheat and barley varieties and sowing times of wheat, barley and lentils so we don't have everything germinating at the same time.

Weed control is our biggest challenge so we worked quickly, spraying selective herbicides on early germinating crops. We've also been monitoring disease and insects and we spread urea to get nitrogen onto the canola, wheat and barley as opportunities came with rainfall.

We've also been carting hay from last season - up to Mallee Hay at Ultima. In July when we have a real feel for the season we'll decide whether to put out more nutrients or shut-up shop.

Evan and Katrina Lord farm at Mirrool in south-western NSW as part of the DB Group with Matt and Sam Dart and Richard and Trudi West. They grow wheat, barley, canola, lupins, vetch for brown manure and oats for feed. They also run 1800 Dohne ewes.

It was full steam ahead for our sowing program after we received 20 to 30mm of rain in early May. We'd already got our sheep feed and long-season canola in with a bit of rain which fell in late March and finished that along with long-season wheat after receiving 5 to 6mm at Easter.

We are growing three wheats - Lancer (PBR), Gregory (PBR) and Spitfire (PBR) and - a bit of grazing wheat - Longsword (PBR). We trialled it last year and were really impressed. Other varieties suffered from heat stress so we got the grazing benefit but not grain yield - so hopefully this is the best of both worlds. The sheep will stay on it until the end of July and it will be harvested along with our other wheat.

Our main grazing crops are vetch and oats. They are used in our rotations to boost organic soil nitrogen levels while maintaining an income from the paddock rather than just chemical fallowing or spelling it.

We have continued our soil testing, making decisions based on results from deep-N testing - mainly looking at soil nitrogen levels in different parts of the paddock and adjusting them accordingly. We top-dressed our canola on a rainfall event, then top-dressed the long-season wheat and spread urea in line with our soil tests and season outlook. We're confident of at least an average season so we will apply what we have budgeted.

We also went to a GRDC canola early identification pest day at Barellan. It gave us a bit of knowledge about what to be aware of so we were scouting crops early for any potential insect pressures.

David Giddings, partner Kerri and their children farm at Wanilla on the Lower Eyre Peninsula. They grow wheat, barley, canola and lupins and run 3500 Merino ewes, of which 1500 are mated to Merinos and 2000 mated to Dorsets.

We had one of the better breaks (30 to 50mm) I have seen early in the season. It was an advantage for all our cropping and livestock, especially livestock because we got as good a pasture germination as you could expect, with a big plus for legume content and total biomass. Our ewes lambed at the end of May straight into green feed. Our crops and livestock are fairly separate. The only time the two systems combine is when sheep graze stubble. They have permanent pastures like kikuyu, chicory and lucerne.

With wheat we are aiming for yield, not protein, choosing varieties based on NVT and on-farm trials. - Stephen Gibson

We sowed about half the program - 450ha of lupins, 90ha of barley and 400ha of canola - in April before the break on about 6mm of rain. It was a bit patchy because it had been dry for so long. We inter-row sowed lupins into barley stubble and canola directly into legume stubble rows. The rest of the crop went in during May, which is relatively normal for us, but 100ha had to wait until we spaded because the guy who does my ripping in summer had his dozer engine blow up.

The soil has improved a lot since I've been ripping and spading but they are still fundamentally poor soil types. With our controlled-traffic system our biggest risk is it getting too wet, so I like to get paddock operations done as early as possible so we don't make a mess of the paddock.

With no rain over summer we had volunteers and broadleaf grass weeds in the crop so we had to be very quick with spraying. Not a lot of urea or nitrogen goes out at seeding, so it was also critical fertiliser was applied quickly. We spread 200 kilograms of urea about four weeks after germination.

Tim and Victoria Harrington and their children farm at Darkan in Western Australia's high-rainfall zone in the south-west of the state. They mainly crop barley and canola. They also run 5500 ewes and 800 wethers.

We were sowing long-season wheat by the start of May. I always begin then regardless, because I like to be finished by June. This year it was effectively dry seeding but we were confident enough to still apply full fertiliser rates.

I haven't grown wheat for a long time but with a couple of newer long-season red varieties I decided to give it a crack, mainly to broaden our chemical options. Then we sowed canola, lupins, Spartacus (PBR) barley, wheat and finished with RGT Planet (PBR) barley. Malt barley is our winner and is across about half the property this season.

We have a lot of trouble with non-wetting soils so we re-plumbed our seeding gear and put wetting agents in the furrows. It's another cost but you definitely get a better strike. It doesn't mean you'll make more money but with more area covered by crop we have less trouble with weeds.

My main focus during sowing was making sure we had a good balance between crop and sheep to ensure stock were being taken off stubbles into paddocks that were green enough. I have two lambing periods. One-third of my ewes lambed at the start of May and the rest when there will be peak feed availability around July 10.

In June we were mainly in-crop spraying and applying urea, back in each paddock a month after each was seeded. We have a lot more nitrogen going in with wetting agents, and with phosphates and potassium already out we very rarely adjust rates once our crop is in. We have a cost structure in place and a lot of our costs are up-front, so it is what it is.

Queensland grower Stephen Gibson planted barley and long-season wheat on the back of solid rainfall in March. PHOTO Supplied

Queensland grower Stephen Gibson planted barley and long-season wheat on the back of solid rainfall in March. PHOTO Supplied

Stephen Gibson farms with parents Brian and Kaylene and sister Ann-Maree at Dulacca on Queensland's Western Downs. They crop wheat, barley, chickpeas, sorghum and mungbeans.

We were lucky enough to get 70 to 100mm of rain in March and we needed every bit of it. We had moisture deep but the surface was very dry so the rain helped it to meet up. Off that we planted quite a bit of barley and long-season wheat Sunmax (PBR) and Coolah (PBR) on the higher country for their ability to handle frost mid-April. A patchy five to 20mm in May allowed us to plant main-season wheat Borlaug (PBR), Suntop (PBR) and Reliant (PBR).

We pushed the chickpeas out at the end of May and have reduced them from half to about one-third of the plantings because we are trying to put down stubble and chickpeas can leave things a bit bare. Disease pressure will also ease. With wheat we are aiming for yield, not protein, choosing varieties based on NVT and on-farm trials. We had a decent amount of nitrogen applied early and will chase yield with more if needed as the season opens up.

We harvested our sorghum summer crop in June. It's nothing spectacular but the March rain probably doubled the yield, turning a poor crop into a slightly less poor crop. We're also trialling some different wheat varieties and I'm planning to have a grower day for a group I'm looking to form. I'll have a few different fertiliser set-ups, row spacings and populations and we will see what we come up with.