Twenty-two growers from New South Wales and Victoria planted super-high-oleic (SHO) safflower for the first time last year, sowing the crop on a limited-release basis across 1700 hectares.
For many, 2019 was their first experience of growing safflower. But dry conditions and frosts just after sowing affected grain yields in some areas, with others producing yields comparable to canola crops grown under similar seasonal conditions.
While the jury is still out on the full value of safflower as an alternative to canola, growers and agronomists are keen to see how it yields on soils where canola consistently under-performs, and in seasonal conditions that allow the crop to grow to its full potential.
In 2019, the SHO safflower variety E 40-R was grown on several farms near Lockhart, in southern NSW, with mixed results after an exceptionally dry season and severe frosts at planting.
South of Lockhart, near Brookong, Brendan Forbes planted SHO safflower across 77ha comprising a mixture of red loam, black self-mulching clay and grey sodic soils.
Wheat, canola and barley tend to perform poorly on Brendan's grey sodic soils because they are prone to waterlogging.
"The main reason we wanted to grow SHO safflower was to see if it would break through our sodic soils to access moisture stored at depth," he says.
With encouragement from Chris Minehan, of Rural Management Strategies, and a $650 per tonne forward contract on farm - representing a $150/t premium over canola - Brendan planted the crop to see how it would perform on his varying soils.
The area earmarked for sowing was fallowed and chisel ploughed to a depth of 100 to 150 millimetres during 2018.
Seed was sourced from Go Resources and sown on 5 May 2019 into a wet soil profile using a seeder set on 178mm row spacings.
A second block of SHO safflower was planted on 22 May using a seeder set on 305mm row spacings.
In both cases, 19kg/ha of seed was sown with 40kg/ha of mono-ammonium phosphate (MAP).
On 11 June, Brendan applied 80kg/ha of urea, followed by clethodim to manage ryegrass and wild oats on 28 June.
The crop was harvested on 13 January, yielding 650kg/ha on average after the seed was cleaned. Total in-crop rainfall was 156mm. Brendan reports a small profit of $100/ha.
On the red loam soils, the yields averaged 400 to 500kg/ha. On heavier black clay soils, the crop yielded up to 1t/ha in parts of the trial.
In comparison, Brendon says a crop of HyTTec® Trophy canola planted nearby yielded 800kg/ha on average and was sold for $637/t, delivered to Riverina Oils and Bio Energy near Wagga Wagga.
When GroundCover™ spoke to Brendan in late January, he had not dug a soil pit to assess how successfully the SHO safflower roots were able to break through the sodic subsoils to access subsoil moisture.
Brendan says he would only grow the crop again if:
- subsoil moisture is plentiful;
- his trial shows SHO safflower roots can penetrate his sodic grey soils to access stored soil moisture; and
- a price premium is offered.
"Our best returns in 2019 were made out of canola hay with yields of 4 to 5t/ha, which we are selling for $270/t," he says. "If a season does turn dry I can cut canola for hay, but SHO safflower cannot be cut for hay."
Having the option to make canola hay in dry seasons is important to Brendan when considering his future sowing options.
More information: Brendan Forbes, 0429 207 633, firstname.lastname@example.org
Orange Park planting
Eight kilometres east of Lockhart, at Warakirri Cropping's Orange Park, assistant manager Jannie Human says a 110ha paddock of E 40-R SHO safflower was sown on 30 May.
A disc seeder set on 190mm row spacings was used to sow 16kg/ha of seed with 46kg/ha of MAP into a paddock containing a mix of black self-mulching clay and red loam soil. The previous crop sown on the paddock was wheat.
Jannie says seedling emergence was patchy, with some plants pushing through the soil later than others, mainly due to the dry seasonal conditions and frosts following planting.
On 19 June, an insecticide was applied to protect against redlegged earth mite.
Grass and broadleaf weeds were sprayed on 2 August, before 120kg/ha of urea was added on 8 August. On 13 September, a systemic insecticide was applied for aphids.
After receiving 160mm of in-crop rainfall, the trial was harvested over two days on 9 and 10 January. It yielded 500kg/ha on average, which was not enough to break even.
Jannie says 2019 was a tough year to run the trial because of the dry conditions. However, it will be sown again to assess its performance in 2020.
"It's a good fit for us, especially if the price increases beyond $650/t on-farm, because it has a later sowing window and a big taproot to access moisture," he says.
A 2019 Go Resources time-of-sowing experiment at Warakirri Cropping's Willaroo farm near Boggabilla, NSW, demonstrates what E 40-R SHO safflower can yield if sown early into a soil profile with plenty of available subsoil moisture.
Trial results show a treatment sown on 15 May yielded 2.19t/ha on 54mm of in-crop rainfall. The paddock was fallowed during 2018 and received 307mm of rainfall from August 2018 to April 2019. The treatment sown on 30 May yielded 1.75t/ha.
Growers who planted E 40-R SHO safflower in Victoria's Wimmera region north of Horsham have reported paddock yields averaging between 0.5t/ha and 1.6t/ha. Rainfall for the season was slightly below average at Horsham.
Low yields were associated with later sowing and harvester grain losses, while high yields were associated with early sowing.
Go Resources research and development manager David Hudson was pleased with the Wimmera yields given the drier conditions in 2019.
He says trials will be sown across Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia this year.