Banking on canola triumph after years of drought

Merriwa farmers kick fires, drought with bumper crops

Happy to see that tinge of yellow across his canola paddock, Mark Campbell, Woodlands, Merriwa.

Happy to see that tinge of yellow across his canola paddock, Mark Campbell, Woodlands, Merriwa.


Campbell clan look forward to 3t/ha crop in October


It could be the best canola crop on the back of the worst drought for the Campbells of Merriwa.

The opposites are stark from a year ago although Mark and Karen Campbell, Woodlands, were able to get a fine barley crop (3.5 tonnes to the hectare) on the back of storm rain and a min-till regime last year (The Land, Oct 31, 2019).

This year their crop fortunes have been more certain with help from consistent rainfall for the first time in four years. They have planted wheat, barley, oats, triticale and lucerne and also 180ha of canola now rising above the fence line and starting to flower.

The canola is looking outstanding, and the 90ha of Barenbrug Banker Clearfield is expected to go about 3t/ha, while the 90ha of Cargill's Victory Clearfield will go about 2.5t/ha.

"Banker at this stage has the edge on the Victory variety," Mark Campbell says.

They went in a bit later with the canola, Normally they plant on April 15, but the Campbell's agronomist Tim Sawley, Nutrien Merriwa, a whizz on local frost events, advised to plant a week later.

"We got a bit burnt last year with the frost so this year we decided to go a week later."

So far it's worked with the flowering only just coming on now after a run of frosts.

The Campbells (father Ron and sons Mark and Peter), bought a new sowing rig and sowed the canola at 2.8 to 3 kilos a hectare on April 21, their normal rate. "We got better establishment than usual," Mark Campbell said.

"The rain bands that kept coming through really did it for us this year."

The seeding was followed up by 100kg/ha of DAP fertiliser, about 50-100kg less than they put on their Fathom barley last year to boost phosphorous levels. They topdressed later with 100-200kgs of urea (in the cabbage stage before rainfall events).

 Mark Campbell and his daughter Lucy, 4, in the canola.

Mark Campbell and his daughter Lucy, 4, in the canola.

He planted into barley and triticale stubble, as part of his min-till regime.

The rain bands have kept coming and 10 days ago the canola paddock received 46mm, while at Ron's paddock over the hill, they received 59mm.

"The rain has been perfect and it's hit the crops just at the right time. We are starting to see a few flowers now and honestly it couldn't look much better. We will be hoping for another September fall at the grain filling stage."

The area is expecting up to another 30mm this weekend and into Monday.

Isabella, 6, and sister Lucy on edge of the crop.

Isabella, 6, and sister Lucy on edge of the crop.

The Campbells will start windrowing about October 15-20 and hopefully harvest about two weeks after that.

He wouldn't knock back any more rain up until then. "I won't say we've had too much rain, but things are very wet at the moment. We have a number of little gullies running clear, but there hasn't been a terrible amount of run-off," Mark Campbell said.

Merriwa's rainfall is tracking well above average. So far to August this year it's recorded 547mm, compared to average rain up to August of 373mm, and compared to last year's 225mm.

At Woodlands they've had 545mm so far this year, with almost half of that falling in February.

Tim Sawley said it was one of the best years in ages for crops in the Merriwa district. He said some would be the best for at least five to six years.

The major crops in the district were wheat, barley, canola, and some lupins and chickpeas.

"We had a fantastic start to the season. some crops were getting a bit thirsty (on the red country) and the soil moisture profile was waning. But we are now back to a full moisture profile by the end of July (after the recent rain)."

That was good news for grain crops going forward.

Frost events have also reduced compared to previous years, with about 25 per cent less of average frost events this year in the growing season.

"Canola appears to be the golden crop this year," Mr Sawley said. "The crops are the best they've looked I'd say in five to six years. Many are just starting to flower."

The above average rain was also recharging the deepwater supplies and also filling most dams giving water security. "It's all good news for us."

The upward trend in the rainfall graph gives hope the devastating drought might be behind the Upper Hunter.


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