A combination of nailing the sowing window, as well as feral pest exclusion and prompt weed control, has produced an award-winning result for Bellata farmers, Glenn and Rachel Fernance.
The couple run their farming business on Courallie Park (known for also being the former home of Roger and Jan Hann’s now dispersed Courallie Hereford stud) with Mr Fernance’s parents, Ron and Lynn, and his brother Michael – and with the guidance of agronomist Drew Penberthty, owner of Penagcon, Bellata.
Glenn said the preparation involved a lot of summer spraying to protect stored moisture in their no-till system.
They came into the season with some rain, but had to be organised to take advantage of what fell.
He said they received a late break in October-November 2017. This was followed by two good storms at the end of January/early February, those later falls bringing a total of 125 millimetres of rain.
“So it was heavy weed spraying again from then to keep the moisture,” Mr Fernance said.
“There was one 30mm storm in early April and we planted on that. Then it did not rain until July – it was looking quite ordinary. We didn’t do any grass spraying because the crop was stressed.
“Even with the broadleaf spray we did a very soft option (Starane/Ally).”
They also received a small amount of rain that helped finish the crop. But Mr Fernance reiterates it was the early sowing at the start of the recommended sowing window that set the crop up for success.
“With any variety, if you can get it in at the front end of that window you can pick up 25 per cent yield with no extra cost,” he said. “It’s just not flowering and finishing in the heat.”
However, growers also needed to carefully select their paddocks, particularly those with minimal frost risk.
With any variety, if you can get it in at the front end of that window you can pick up 25 per cent yield with no extra cost
“The paddocks I do that in are actually elevated, so you get your cold air drainage down into the valleys,” he said.
Mr Fernance said the farmer-owned company, AMPS Agribusiness, had done a lot of work on this area, including five years of replicated trials conducted by the organisation’s head research agronomist Matt Gardner.
Growers could attend their research days and take home the ideas to try on a broader scale.
The Northern Grower Alliance at Bellata was also doing a lot of relevant research. This group took feedback from growers across the local area and used that to guide research priorities, and is also funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation.
The outcomes from this research are made available to growers through the alliance’s grower meetings, which included summer crop and winter crop reviews.
Mr Fernance said his agronomist, Mr Penberthy, also played a big role in helping guide the direction of this research, which included running some of the trials on his own farm.
The other area where Mr Fernance made sure his crop performed was to remove limitations around inputs such as fertiliser.
“We like to have fertiliser left over in the profile – we don’t want to run short,” he said.
“Once you see the visual effects (of a deficiency) … it’s too late, you’ve lost your yield potential, which is your profit.
“Left over fertiliser is like money in the bank – we’ll follow that with a deep tap-root crop like cotton.”
The Fernances have a crop rotation of wheat, cotton, chickpea, then back to wheat – a combination which suited weed control and took advantage of recent good prices.
It was also flexible, allowing the opportunity to drop in a crop like sorghum if the season allowed.
They were able to then control volunteer cotton and keep cover on their country while also producing an extra crop to harvest, all while creating a disease break and the opportunity to rotate chemicals.
The Fernances have also been better able to keep pigs and kangaroos at bay with exclusion fencing, which, when you’ve got a green paddock in a season like 2018, has been essential to having a crop to harvest.
It was for all these aspects – the weed control, the timing of sowing, the fertiliser plan, and the pest control – that won the Fernances the Excellence in Farming Award.
This is awarded for an overall high level of management, rather than just a high yield (the focus for the main award in the dryland crop competition).
In the Suncorp Bank Agricultural Societies Council Dryland Crop Competition judging, the Fernance’s crop was estimated to yield 3.4 tonnes a hectare and achieved an overall score of 134 points.
The winners for the competition were announced at a presentation dinner in Dubbo, last Friday night.
At harvest, the Fernance’s actual yield came back at 3.8t/ha for their Lancer wheat, with 14 per cent protein, 85 hectolitre test weight, and 0.5pc screenings.
“It’s the only thing I grow now. That’s just replicated year on year, those higher test weights and lower screenings, out of that variety,” Mr Fernance said.
Lancer was a short, compact variety so had also proven water and nutrient efficient. This was critical in a year of extreme dry like the one we have just had.
“I introduced that variety four years ago, and it has out yielded everything whether wet or dry,” he said.