Despite a dream run with his first safflower crop, fourth-generation cotton grower Jon Elder isn't planning to make it a regular part of the rotation.
"It had everything going for it," he said. "If we were in that position again, where we're really late in the season in terms of rotating our cotton ground, I'd definitely consider it again. But all things being equal, I'd probably still stick to our wheat and barley program."
Mr Elder crops 2500ha at Waverleigh, southwest of Narromine, in the state's Central West, with his partner Karin Stark and parents, Ross and Kerry.
Irrigated cotton is their "main game" occupying about 500ha in a rotation that includes 1200ha of dryland winter cereal and pulse crops.
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Soils are mostly deep, cracking clays and black loamy country, which is used for the cotton, while dryland crops are grown on a mix of deep cracking clays and red sandier soils. A program of regular soil testing has shown no issues with pH.
Average annual rainfall is 525mm, which is slightly winter-dominant but prone to summer storms. Irrigation water for summer crops is mostly drawn from three bores.
Mr Elder said the winter cropping rotation was usually two years of wheat, followed by a pulse which might be lupins or chickpeas, although this year he plans to grow some canola as a break crop for the first time in 20 years.
The cotton country is shifting from a two-year rotation of cotton, wheat and fallow to a three-year rotation, with cotton followed by two winter crops of wheat and then fallow.
"Most of our water is from bores," he said. "And like all bore water there's a bit of salt in it. We've got the land available, and we want to manage our soil a bit better."
Last year's winter crops were Lancer wheat, Leabrook barley and Luxor lupins.
The wet season held up the winter sowing program on ground where cotton had been picked in April and May.
Agronomist Ryan Pratten, of Muldoon Pratten Ag Consulting, suggested they replace some of the wheat and barley with safflower, which has a planting window as late as September and can be harvested in January.
They opted for a super high oleic safflower - a genetically-modified variety developed by the CSIRO that is being commercialised by GO Resources - negotiated a price of $700/t and agreed to sell the whole crop back to GO Resources.
After mulching and cutting the roots of the previous cotton crop, a knockdown herbicide spray of Glyphosate 450 at 1.7L/ha was applied to combat wire weed, black oats, fleabane and phalaris.
In September and October, the 165ha safflower crop was sown into the hills, which are on 1m spacings, at 20kg/ha with monoammonium phosphate at 60kg/ha, using a Boss parallelogram tyne planter.
Rain after planting caused crusting of the soil surface which hindered emergence, but Mr Elder said they "got lucky" with 10mm of rain at the right time.
It softened the surface and allowed the seedlings to punch through.
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