Hard finish brings challenges across the country

Growers assess a complex season as 2019-20 draws to a close

Grower Stories
Lower Eyre Peninsula grower David Giddings has had a "disappointing end" to the 2019-20 season. PHOTO Emma Leonard

Lower Eyre Peninsula grower David Giddings has had a "disappointing end" to the 2019-20 season. PHOTO Emma Leonard

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Growers involved in this year's GroundCover™ on-farm series report very variable season.

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Each year, GroundCover follows growers from across Australia as they manage the winter cropping season. This is the sixth and final instalment in the 2019 series.

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Victoria

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

All in all we're very grateful. For a low-rainfall year, subsoil moisture from December 2018 carried us through. We're quite fortunate. The season has shown the importance of summer spraying and holding moisture in the soil with ground cover. And thevalue of soil testing - knowing your moisture and applying fertiliser to your yield potential.

We had a very dry spring but it rained late, in October, which helped wheat and canola. It was too late for barley and it didn't help the hay we were baling.

Harvest started in late November with lentils. Our first paddock that was dry-sown early May got hit by frost and was disappointing at about 0.6 tonnes per hectare but those sown late May after the break yielded 1.5t/ha. Cereals were good, at four to 5t/ha. The late rain really helped fill the wheat.

Tasmania

Simon Burgess crops wheat, canola, poppies, barley and faba beans, and runs Angus breeders and ewes at Conara in Tasmania's northern midlands as a partner in a private equity business.

It's been a hard finish. We'd been 30 per cent behind long-term-average rainfall and October, our bulking month, was 75 per cent behind, which did the damage, putting extreme pressure on irrigation infrastructure.

We cut 90 per cent of dryland wheat for hay and cut fire breaks around irrigated crops, baling that up for silage. And we baled about 30ha of winter wheat affected by ryegrass. For 2020 we'll change the rotation to avoid winter wheats on ryegrass susceptible paddocks.

The growing season's been tough with less sunshine hours than normal and certainly more wind, which made spraying difficult.

But all in all, when you look around Australia we're having a good harvest. We windrowed canola late November. What we lost in yield we'll make up in pricing. We've harvested dryland wheat and barley. Poppies and winter wheat will kick off mid-January and spring barley through February.

New South Wales

Evan and Katrina Lord grow wheat, barley, canola, lupins, vetch and oats for feed, and run 1800 Dohne ewes at Mirrool in south-western NSW as part of the DB Group.

Overall it was a great result to grow anything. We had no useful spring rain, which put a fair handbrake on yields. We harvested earlier than ever, finishing late November. Anything on fallow was a standout compared to crops on stubble without as much stored moisture.

Wheat quality was good but yields were between 0.3 to 1.5t/ha, depending on rotation history, stored moisture and soil type. Heavy winds between windrowing and harvesting canola caused a fair bit of damage. On fallow, yields were reasonable at 0.8t/ha but on wheat stubble it nearly wasn't worth harvesting.

The positive is it's made good sheep feed. The sheep have come through in excellent condition. One benefit of having a diverse enterprise is if one entity is suffering hopefully you'll have another to prop it up.

As it happens, our biggest rainfall event - 35mm - was about a week into harvest. We'll have stored a little of that but we'll need more to give us some sort of confidence after two years of decile-one growing season rainfall that's sucked the profile dry. But we'll just plan for the averages and take it as it comes.

South Australia

David Giddings and partner Kerri grow wheat, barley, canola and lupins and run 3500 Merino ewes at Wanilla on the Lower Eyre Peninsula.

It's been a disappointing end to a season I'd rather forget. I was quite impressed how the crops finished with very little rain after June but part-way through harvest we had a day of 45 degrees and 80-kilometre winds, which smashed 20 per cent of the canola, taking about 40 per cent of its yield.

All crops were affected, with about 15 per cent loss overall. Barley went from 4t/ha to 3.6t/ha, lupins from 3t/ha to 2t/ha, wheat 3.5t/ha. Canola averaged 2t/ha overall. My cropping business will probably be profitable, but only just.

The small compensation is that as a mixed farmer I can make some use of the loss. I'll run sheep on the stubbles and they'll pick the barley heads, canola and lupins off the ground to put on weight.

Queensland

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

Mother nature is a fickle mistress. The growing season was pretty dismal and we were in unchartered territory in December, with no real rain since March. In November it was like a scene from a dystopian movie, with smoke from fires in the east and dust storms from the west. It's been trying, but you've got to be flexible and move with it.

Harvest finished early November. Chickpeas were short, but the air reels we fitted to the header maximised the harvest and paid for themselves. They yielded 0.75 to 1t/ha but given the conditions we're pretty happy.

We ended up with a decent wheat crop but we had to fight tooth and nail to get it. The new Borlaug variety from CIMMYT definitely picked the yield up. It will be one of the staples now.

We've deep ripped where we didn't have stubble for better water infiltration but we're not budgeting for a summer crop. It will take at least 200mm to plant mungbeans or sorghum. But the first few months are our highest for rainfall and if we get a late break we can charge up the profile. When it rains we'll plant something - whether its summer this year, winter, or summer next year.

Western Australia

Tim and Victoria Harrington crop mainly barley and canola and run 5500 ewes and 800 wethers at Darkan in Western Australia's south-west.

What's shocked me most is the result from such little rainfall. Our GM canola's done 2.2t/ha and our open-pollinated crop was 1.75t/ha. That's better than high-rainfall years, so it raises the question of why it's not performing as well then.

I didn't change my fertiliser regime, so maybe I'm limiting my upside in good years, not providing enough nutrition. It's also the first year I've used wetting agents. And where canola was on lupin stubbles, yield went right up, so that nitrogen boost from lupins also indicates under-fertilising. But I don't really look at one silver bullet - it's all to do with the system.

We'll plant more lupins this year, not just for harvest, but for fattening lambs. My rotation's been hanging out for a legume and this way we'll have the benefit of nitrogen and won't forgo an income.

We started, and finished, harvest earlier than ever before, just before Christmas. Barley yielded the long-term average, 3.7 t/ha. I'm not a very experienced wheat grower but it matched barley so it will get another go. Over summer we'll graze ewes over stubbles, spread lime and do drainage works ready for April seeding. Climate change is coming upon us but our systems change and evolve and think we're handling it pretty well.

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