After surviving three of his worst years on the land, Nyngan farmer Michael Dutschke is happy to have notched up consecutive good ones.
"Last year was a cracking year," he said. "Now we've had two years of abundance, you would still class this year as a good year. I know it's disappointing when you think about what you could have got. If it hadn't rained (in November) it would have been one of the best years in the whole of NSW. It's just the timing was bad."
If it hadn't rained... it would have been one of the best years in the whole of NSW.- Michael Dutschke
Mr Dutschke crops 8100ha on leased land at Folkestone, 75km south west of Nyngan, in central NSW, with his wife Janene and brother Trevor. Sons Isaac and Caleb, who work as mechanics for most of the year, are a handy addition to the workforce during peak periods, such as sowing and harvest.
The Dutschkes grow dryland winter cereal and pulse crops. They experimented with summer crops in 2016 and 2017, but gave them away after the sorghum and mung beans were beaten by lack of rainfall. This year's winter crops were Sunmax, Longsword and LRPB Flanker wheat, Spartacus CL and Beast barley, which is being bulked up for seed, and Pearl field peas. Soil types are mostly red loam and pH ranges from 4.9-6.0. Long term average annual rainfall is 420mm, spread fairly evenly across the year with average growing season (GSR) rainfall of 204mm.A run of below average years started in 2017, culminating in 2019 - the driest year in more than a century, it delivered a measly 22.8mm of GSR and just 134.6mm for the entire 12 months. Pre-drought the rotation was wheat, barley, field peas and wheat, with a quarter of the area sown to field peas. But the failure of several pea crops in a row means it's taking a while to rebuild their store of seed. Mr Dutschke said he'd allocated 1600ha to break crops in 2022 and was considering a combination of field peas, lupins and long fallow.
He was keen to get back into the standard rotation because of the benefits. The combination of a disease and grass weed break between cereal crops, and nitrogen fixed in the soil, contribute to an extra 10-20 per cent yield in the following wheat crop. After good rain in February and March, pre-sowing weed management for the 2021 Spartacus barley crop began with application of Logran at 30g/ha to combat fleabane and wild radish.
Using an Ausplow DBS air seeder with trailing multi-stream box, seed was sown at 34kg/ha, with a blend of 40kg/ha DAP and 30kg/ha urea, into wheat stubble on 30.5cm row spacings from April 12 until late May.
"It was perfect sowing weather," he said. "It stayed warm for quite a while and the crop did get away quite quickly. You couldn't have got a better season really, the way it kept raining." No insecticide or fungicide sprays were needed, and the barley received one in-crop spray of LVE and Ally against wild radish and mustard. Some of the barley paddocks were top dressed with 50kg/ha of urea.
"It worked out a pretty economical crop really," Mr Dutschke said. "Before the rain, it was yielding really well at 3-4t/ha and standing up nicely. It was a beautiful crop."
Harvest began in the last week of October, but all came to a halt when the rains started on November 4. Record rain of 180mm in November caused trouble on three fronts, interrupting harvest, causing the barley to lodge and affecting wheat quality.
"The barley's laying down and we couldn't harvest it at night because it kept on tangling up in the headers that don't have pickup fronts," he said. "We left that because we wanted to get the wheat off while it's still worth good money, as the barley was all going for feed."
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