THE 2018 cropping program is well and truly underway at King Edward Farm, Lake Grace.
The 5700 hectare farm is owned and operated by Greg and Paula Carruthers and their son Justin.
They have just finished planting 300 hectares of Serradella clover and this week started seeding their canola crop.
The cropping program will see 3000ha planted to barley, 550ha to wheat, 300ha to oats, 360ha to peas, 210ha to lupins with the remaining 400ha seeded to canola.
Cropping makes up about 80 per cent of the Carruthers’ mixed-farming enterprise with the remaining 20pc being dedicated to sheep for Merino wool production, with about 1500 breeding ewes.
The Carruthers’ family immigrated from Scotland and Greg’s great grandfather Robert Carruthers secured a parcel of farmland at Lake Grace in 1911.
More than a century on, Justin has returned to work alongside his parents Greg and Paula who have been farming since 1994.
Prior to farming Greg worked as a shearer from the time he left school in 1974.
Greg and Paula also have two daughters – Leanne who lives in Perth with her husband and three sons and Sonia, who farms at Nyabing with her husband and daughter.
Prior to returning to Lake Grace, Justin lived in Perth where he completed a heavy diesel mechanic apprenticeship.
He decided to return to the farm business for the 2011 harvest.
“Growing up on the family farm, I had always been involved with all aspects of the farm, I always enjoyed farming and had it in the back of my mind that one day I would come back,” Justin said.
“I could see there was an opportunity for me to progress the farm.”
When Justin moved back to the farm it meant his relationship with his partner Shenae Prater was long distance for about three years, until Shenae also moved back to town to start up her beauty and skincare salon.
Greg said he was pleased to have his son back on the farm and that he always thought Justin would want to carry on the business.
“It is fantastic to have Justin back – Paula and I had built the business as much as we could and now with Justin coming back, our productivity and enthusiasm has increased,” Greg said.
“I think the three of us make a very good team.
“When he went away to do his apprenticeship we were pleased that he was getting a qualification but had a feeling that he would come back, so in that time we kept increasing the farm in size, machinery and so on.
“We never pushed him to come back – at the end of the day it was his decision and he eventually decided he would return.
“It is great to see that in the Lake Grace area there are a significant number of young people returning to their family farm businesses.
“This is wonderful for the future of farming in our area.”
The Carruthers’ cropping program for this season is consistent with previous years, but they have slowly begun to grow more barley due to higher yields and agronomic benefits.
This year they will be planting Spartacus barley for the first time on a large scale, on the back of sowing La Trobe in previous years.
Justin said they trialled Spartacus last season in one paddock and were pleased with the results.
“Spartacus has very similar traits to La Trobe which we have been happy with,” he said.
The family has a diverse mix of soils its needs to cater to, with heavy clay, deep sand, ironstone and crumbly clay which Justin said could sometimes be difficult to manage.
“Every soil type needs different management strategies which we try to work in where we can but because we are broadacre it gets a bit complicated sometimes,” he said.
Spreading lime has become a priority in recent years with a consistent application each year, focusing on a different area.
The farm doesn’t receive much summer rain, with only about 50 millimetres recorded so far this year.
To help in combatting weeds, a crop rotation program allows the operation to use a wider range of chemicals, along with harvest weed seed management using a seed destructor.
“The weed burden in the paddock makes the decision on how long we can leave it in a cereal rotation or whether we have to put it back to a legume or pasture to clean it up,” Justin said.
“We find a mix of peas, lupins, canola and pasture seems to work quite well as break crops.”
Over the past seven years crop yields have averaged 2.05 tonnes per hectare for wheat, 2.3t/ha for barley, 0.9t/ha for canola, 2.7t/ha for oats, 1.25t/ha for peas and 1.12t/ha for lupins.
The sheep side of the enterprise has been structured to complement the cropping.
Keeping their feet in sheep has paid off for their crops and with wool prices on the rise, the family is starting to see a significant financial return.
Justin said they would not go 100pc cropping as sheep helped to relieve pressure from the cropping enterprise, spreading their management options.
He said the biggest challenge would be managing how the business developed in the future.
“If we keep expanding as we have been doing, it will probably get to a point where we need to make sure we are able to handle the work load and things still get done properly,” Justin said.
“As far as the workload goes, finding good labour will most likely be the biggest issue for us.
“As we all know in farming a lot of the future is out of our control, so we will continue to do the best we can with what we have and what rain we receive.”