AFTER several years of comparing a range of wheat varieties to Beckom, central Riverina farmer Daniel Fox is satisfied it's a winner.
"We've been trialling varieties against Beckom for five or six years and nearly every year something always goes wrong with the other varieties and the Beckom is so good," he said.
"Beckom always wins. This year we've said we're not growing any other wheat varieties."
Mr Fox crops about 2000 hectares with his wife Rachel, parents David and Cathie, and grandfather Harold 'Bun' Fox at Gladlea, near Marrar, in the central Riverina.
The Foxes adopted no till in 1998, and zero till with a disc seeder since 2017. They have operated a controlled traffic farming system since 2016.
They grow dryland winter cereal, oilseed and pulse crops and are trialling dryland summer crops, such as sorghum, sunflowers, corn and buckwheat.
The shift into summer cover crops is designed to reduce frost risk and improve summer weed management.
The rotation previously was based on two cereal crops followed by two break crops of a pulse and canola, but Mr Fox said they found the double break interfered with ground cover retention.
"We're quite focused on stubble retention and getting 100pc ground cover, and with those double breaks we just seemed to be burning the ground cover away from us," he said.
"With some new thinking though, in terms of short, summer cover crops sown immediately after the canola and after a pulse crop, I think we'll probably go back there because it did work very well.
"It was really good for weed control and really good for nitrogen that was left over for your canola, which is a traditionally nitrogen-hungry crop."
Soil types vary from granite-based and quartz hills to red loams in the valleys. Testing shows pH stratification, with a pH of 6.5 at 0-5 centimetres and 4.5 at 10-20cm, which they're addressing with a combination of ultra-fine lime and foliar calcium sprays to encourage crops to push their roots deeper.
Mr Fox said the return of earthworms showed the soil was naturally correcting itself.
"It's just that you need to give it enough time," he said.
Average annual rainfall is 500 millimetres, but most of the past 20 years have been fairly dry, hence the focus on retaining moisture from summer rainfall.
"It really makes our production systems a lot less risky," he said.
"We're not necessarily storing more water, but we're losing a hell of a lot less than we used to."
The Foxes are also working to reduce their use of synthetic chemicals, including fungicides and pesticides, as part of a plan to improve soil health and support the full gamut of naturally occurring organisms.
Mr Fox said they now used brewed products, such as Trichoderma, for managing foliar diseases, and the Cropping Solutions biostimulant Cropsure that boosts the plant's immune system to help it fight disease.
"We get annoyed when people say, 'Oh, you're mad because you're not using fungicides'," he said.
"It's not that we're not protecting our crop. We're just not doing it in the traditional sense.
"We're also not growing the varieties that require that level of protection. That's not to say that we don't ever use it, but we're not naturally reaching for fungicides anymore."
Mr Fox said many Vixen and Catapult wheat crops were smashed by stripe rust in the wet conditions last year, but his Beckom had "not one speck of rust on it", even without any Cropsure or fungicide. And the very susceptible wheat variety, DS Bennett, only received a single spray of Opus in October.
The area allocated to pulses this year has been increased, not because of high fertiliser prices, but because of their value in the rotation for continuous cropping.
"Back when we were mixed farming, and this is going well back now, we were 50 per cent legumes at any one time, with 50pc legume-based pastures and 50pc crops," he said. "We realistically need to get back to a balance of legumes and non-legumes in the rotation."
As well as Beckom wheat, this year's crops include PBA Samira and PBA Amberley faba beans, HyTTec Trifecta and HyTTec Trophy canola, Maximus barley and Mitika oats.
Sowing began on March 28, with a 12m Excel Stubble Warrior disc seeder sowing faba beans and canola on 333mm row spacings. Next up will be the barley, followed by wheat and the oats, all sown on 166mm row spacing for increased weed competition.
Back when we were mixed farming, and this is going well back now, we were 50 per cent legumes at any one time, with 50pc legume-based pastures and 50pc crops. We realistically need to get back to a balance of legumes and non-legumes in the rotation.- Daniel Fox, Gladlea
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