Crops tackle the big wet

Chickpeas hit and miss in wet winter

Cropping
Finally a sunny day at Krui Plains, Tulloona, north of Moree. Darryl Bartelen planted HatTrick chickpeas into wheat stubble and achieved a high strike rate despite the big wet. Photo: Chris Wright

Finally a sunny day at Krui Plains, Tulloona, north of Moree. Darryl Bartelen planted HatTrick chickpeas into wheat stubble and achieved a high strike rate despite the big wet. Photo: Chris Wright

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Many Moree farms have had their full annual median rain

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Many areas north of Moree have already had their full annual median rain this year and many have had to make bold decisions on winter cropping.

It's been a lottery with chickpeas, with many plants not striking, cutting plants per square metre by up to a third.

They also face the risk of disease in the big wet, with the chickpea nemesis of ascochtya, that has already emerged at Mallawa, and two other diseases - botrytis grey mould and phytophthora root rot. Grey mould was particularly severe in the Moree district a few harvests back.

Many have just given up on a winter cropping regime and are waiting out for summer regime of sorghum and dryland cotton.

At Tulloona, Darryl Bartelen had to make some big decisions on what he should plant after flooding rains hit all around the Moree district in late March, taking out topsoil and leaving a trail of destruction.

At Krui Plains, it's been a decision to go a bit less on chickpeas (forced by the wet weather), harder on wheat, which is looking good, and some barley (showing net blotch). When he had a good year of faba beans a while back, he thought it was time to get out, knowing how fickle the crop can be, so they are not on the planting agenda. "They're for rich farmers," he says.

Mr Bartelen will go in with fungicide in the next three weeks if the weather stays dry to ward off a number of potential chickpea diseases.

Mr Bartelen will go in with fungicide in the next three weeks if the weather stays dry to ward off a number of potential chickpea diseases.

So it's a mixed bag this year. And as the Bureau of Meteorology's official rain recorder at Tulloona, Darryl doesn't need to be prodded on rainfall figures. They've had 530mm for the year so far at Krui Plains, just under half the median annual rainfall. Looking for a sunny sky has been difficult since the heavy March rains.

"We had a full profile even before the floods," Mr Bartelen says. "We got smashed, suddenly we had river frontage (on Croppa Creek). Ever since then every time it rains it's just been run-off."

We got smashed, suddenly we had river frontage (on Croppa Creek). Ever since then every time it rains it's just been run-off. - Darryl Bartelen, Krui Plains, Tulloona

There has just been a slight three-week dry break from the middle of May to June. "We even have moss growing in our paddocks."

The Bartelens planted their chickpeas in May 29 with a tyne opener, planting HatTrick into wheat stubble at 70kg per hectare, using 60kg/ha with StarterZ. They'd been hoping to strike about 27-28 plants per square metre, but this ended up at 22-25 per sq/m.

That's actually a great result for the district where about 15 plants per sq/m has been the norm because of waterlogging. Pulses such as chickpeas don't like wet feet, but barley and wheat can cope.

The March flooding on orchards at nearby Beela, owned by the Estens, that saw a lot of paddock damage - but some silt moved in. It's hardly stopped raining since.

The March flooding on orchards at nearby Beela, owned by the Estens, that saw a lot of paddock damage - but some silt moved in. It's hardly stopped raining since.

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"Our chickpeas came up pretty quickly. At this stage they are holding their own, which is pleasing although we are alert to the potential diseases."

They hoped to go into the paddocks in the next few weeks if the weather stays dry with fungicide to prevent disease. They had looked at aerial spraying but the costs have become almost prohibitive.

"If we can't get into the paddocks then we'll have to weigh up that option," Mr Bartelen said.

Because of the wet he'd planted about 900ha of chickpeas compared to the hoped for 1050ha.

Unfortunately some of his barley plantings have been hit by net blotch. The problem may have been planting barley on barley, with the issue of inoculum occurring. His wheat was looking promising at this stage.

There are adequate supplies of fungicide for the problem through his supplier and agronomic adviser AMPS Agribusiness in Moree. AMPS agronomist Duncan Woods said chickpea establishment had been affected in many areas around Moree. "Saturated paddocks and cold temperatures have not helped and there's been a lot of mortality with a lot of the varieties only going 15 plants per square metre," he said.

"They've also been very slow to establish. But with less plants they may bunch up and may go well as long as we don't get waterlogging when they are flowering or podfilling. The wet will also bring a lot of disease."

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