Dual-purpose crops have long been a go-to crop in New South Wales farming systems, and a strong livestock market plus improved information on managing grazing crops to maximise grain recovery has meant an increase in the number of farmers choosing dual-purpose cereal crops.
NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) grains technical specialist, Peter Matthews, said the opportunity to boost farm incomes and lift farm profitability has seen an increase in areas sown to dual-purpose cereal crops.
“With the continued pressure on farm incomes, growers are looking at every opportunity to maximise their incomes,” he said.
“Ongoing strong returns from livestock have seen growers look at ways to boost farm fodder production and maintain grain production.”
The recent release of new varieties better suited to specific regions, and improved information on managing grazing crops to maximise grain recovery, has meant a greater number of farmers are feeling confident about the use of dual-purpose crops in their farming systems.
Mr Matthews and NSW DPI researcher, Dr Mehrshad Barary, have been investigating the performance of the latest dual purpose cereal varieties as part of a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and NSW DPI research investment.
The project aims to deliver information to growers which will help improve forage management and grain production to boost returns from both income streams.
Running since 2013, the project evaluated more than 70 commercial and breeding lines of wheat, barley, triticale and oats across eight sites last season.
Mr Matthews said despite the last two seasons being complete opposites in terms of rainfall, the dual-purpose cereals continued to perform well.
“Our trials showed EGA Wedgetail added between 40 to 50 per cent additional gross income from stock live-weight gains compared with grain value only,” Mr Matthews said.
“The amount of fodder produced by dual-purpose cereals depends on rainfall through autumn and winter.
“In 2016, cereal crops produced four tonnes of available dry matter per hectare in our trials, which delivers a potential 400 kilograms per hectare gain in livestock weights.
“2017 was a real test for dual-purpose crops and growers who sowed on the early rain reaped the rewards of having high quality fodder, through a dry winter where annual pastures struggled to establish and grow.”
Mr Matthews said the trials had highlighted the fact that matching the dual-purpose variety’s season length to your local region was important in both maximising dry matter production and grain yield recovery.
“Research results are good news for growers, as the next generation of dual purpose wheat varieties from breeding companies are performing well compared with industry benchmarks, such as EGA Wedgetail, plus they offer a range of crop maturities, so they will be better suited to a wider area of the NSW cropping zone.”
For growers who are considering adding dual-purpose crops to their farm systems, Mr Matthews recommends when comparing dual-purpose varieties, to look at dry matter production figures and grain yield.
“It’s also important to look at the value of the grain commodity, feed versus milling wheats, as a higher yield may not compensate for lower grain prices,” Mr Matthews said.
“Good crop establishment is important in early dry matter production, poorly sown patchy crops have lower dry matter production; be organised to take advantage of the first good break to the season.
“Growers need to manage dual-purpose crops right through the season, ensuring the crop has adequate nutrition through grazing as well as after the crop is locked up for grain recovery.
“Poor management early in the season will dramatically affect the crop’s ability to produce grain.”