WHEN you're farming in an area where rainfall is the most limiting factor for crops, stubble retention and diligent weed management are essential for making every drop count, according to Central West mixed farmer Charlie French.
Mr French farms with his parents Stuart and Louise at Manna Station, Corinella, west of Forbes, in the Central West.
They grow about 3700 hectares of dryland winter cereal and break crops, with irrigated corn in summer when water is available.
A small herd of Angus-Hereford cross cows and about 2000 Dorper sheep graze areas unsuited to cropping.
Soil types at Manna Station are variable, ranging from the more productive sandy red loams to red brown, red Myall clay and heavy grey self-mulching clay on the floodplain.
Average annual rainfall is about 443mm, although it dropped 39-46 per cent in the drought years of 2018 and 2019. By contrast, 2020 and 2021 rainfall totals were 152-178pc above average.
Mr French said their ability to harvest 1t/ha of barley, 0.8t/ha of wheat and 0.3t/ha of canola on the back of 40mm of in-crop rain in 2019 was a tribute to the controlled traffic farming system (CTF) they'd adopted.
The transition to CTF began in 2014 when they bought a 12.2m John Deere 1890 disc seeder and a self-propelled Apache sprayer with 36m boom, followed in 2017 by a Steiger Row Trac and chaser bin to operate on 3m tramlines. The sprayer has since been upgraded to a 36.6m model and an auger extension allows the harvest contractor's header to unload on the go.
Mr French is now a passionate advocate for CTF, and on the board of the Australian Controlled Traffic Farming Association.
He said the benefits at Manna Station have included a small yield increase, reduced fuel use and markedly better trafficability on wet fields during the past two years.
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"CTF gives plants the best chance of survival in a marginal rainfall area," he said. "It's really a no brainer."
After eliminating the pasture phase from their cropping program several years ago, Mr French said they were working on a four-year rotation of wheat, faba beans, wheat and canola.
Conscious of the potential for chemical resistance, using pulse and canola crops between cereals provides a dual break from diseases and weeds, such as ryegrass and fleabane.
"We're trying to be proactive rather than reactive there," he said. "We're using the WeedSmart Big 6 pretty well. With harvest weed seed management, we're using a chaff deck on the header for putting all our chaff fraction on the tram lines. We mix and rotate chemistry when we can."
Nitrogen boost from faba beans
This year's crops on the Fenech farm at Corinella are 50 per cent wheat - Scepter, Lancer and Illabo grazing wheat - 25pc PBA Samira faba beans and 25pc InVigor T 4510 and Victory V7503 CL canola.
It will be the third year the Frenches have grown Scepter wheat and prepared with a double knock followed by Sakura at label rates just before sowing.
The seed was planted between May 15 and June 21 at a rate of 47kg/ha, aiming for 85 plants per square metre, and received 60kg/ha of monoammonium phosphate with 1 per cent zinc to promote root growth.
Mr French said most of the Scepter was planted into faba bean stubble and should not need any in-crop fertiliser.
"That's just because of the nitrogen fixed by the faba beans, which is handy considering the price of urea at the moment," he said.
"We do a deep N and then a comprehensive soil test on pretty much every block every year in January or February, and that gives us an idea of what we need."
The crop will be carefully monitored for broadleaf weeds, as well as pests and disease, especially rust come September.
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