WHILE there hasn't been much to smile about for the past five years, Euston mixed farmer, Luke Follett, has a new spring in his step this week.
About 15mm of rain was recorded at Benington Station, near Euston in far south-west NSW, last week and another 27mm this week.
It might not sound like much, but it brings the year's tally to 177mm, enough to keep the seeder going beyond the planned 6300ha of crops.
"Last year, we put in about 9800ha," Mr Follett said.
"We had 173mm from January to November, and the grain looked great but aborted in the head. It just didn't fill.
"Then we had 106mm from November to the end of the year. Currently, we're up to about 7300ha.
"And with 15mm in the last couple of days the seeder is keeping on going because grain prices are looking quite lucrative.
"And with 15mm in the last couple of days the seeder is keeping on going because grain prices are looking quite lucrative.- Euston mixed farmer Luke Follett
"After the five years that we've had, and with moisture in the ground, it's a good chance to recoup some of the expense."
Mr Follett farms at Benington, northeast of Euston, with his wife Teneille and their five children, aged seven to 18.
They grow wheat, barley and vetch, and have a flock of about 3000 sheep, which includes self-replacing Merinos and first-cross ewes and have been no-till farmers since 2006.
Average annual rainfall is about 320mm, and average yields for wheat are 1.2t/ha and 1.5t/ha for barley.
Unlike much of the NSW grain belt, the Folletts missed out on the drought-breaking rains of 2020 and 2021.
"It's been five dry years," Mr Follett said.
"We're in a pocket that stretches 50 kilometres north of us and 50km south, where we just haven't had much rain."
In the past five years, their best season was 2017, which delivered yields that were 73 per cent of an average year, while the worst was 2018, when yields plummeted to 8pc of an average year.
Yields picked up to 70pc or more in 2019 and 2020, but lack of rain during the season cruelled hopes of a good harvest in 2021, which ended up at about 68pc of an average year.
The sheep were handfed barley for six months last year because of a lack of green pick.
Mr Follett began the conversion to no till cropping in 2006, when he received a Farm Innovation Fund grant of $10,000 and used the cash to convert one of their seeders. The results were clear.
"From 2006-2008, over those three lower rainfall years, the no till came out 0.3t/ha in front of the conventional crops, so we decided in 2008 to go to a full no till system," he said.
This year's crops are Spartacus CL barley, three types of wheat - Razor CL Plus, Scepter and Longsword - and Rasina and RM4 vetch.
After rain events, the summer weed control program swung into action with a WeedIt to control broadleaf weeds.
A self-propelled Goldacres G8 sprayer was used for blanket sprays to manage grass weeds, such as volunteer cereals, barley grass, ryegrass and wild oats.
A metribuzin spray at 100 grams a hectare was applied in front of the seeder as a residual to control broadleaf weeds.
Mr Follett said five years of good soil nutrition had allowed him to cut back on fertiliser, so he withheld the usual 50kg/ha of single superphosphate or 25kg/ha of monoammonium phosphate.
About 1300ha of vetch was sown from mid-March at a seeding rate of 25kg/ha with New Edge Microbials Nodule N, a Group E peat inoculant, using an Ausplow DBS parallelogram seeder set up with two shoots, knife points and press wheels on 300mm row spacings.
What happens next depends on the weather, but Mr Follett said he was happy to be starting with multiple possibilities for the vetch.
"I like to harvest the grain," he said. "But for us, it's got three purposes. It puts nitrogen back into the soil. It gives us a grass weed break in the rotation, and then it fattens our lambs.
"If the season continues, we can also lock up a paddock and harvest it for seed or bale some vetch hay and store it."
Meantime, Mr Follett and his agronomist, Andrew McMahen, from Nutrien Ag Solutions at Manangatang, will carefully monitor the crop for disease and pests, such as aphids. Both are more common in wetter seasons, so they haven't been an issue for a while.
Harvesting of vetch seed will start in late October or early November, using their Case IH 8240 headers.
The seed will be stored on-farm for growing the next crop or sale.
"Back in 2016 we ended up harvesting 1300 tonnes and sold some of that vetch seed to help us through those five drier years," he said.
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