Sheep play weed control role at Duranillin

25 Feb, 2011 02:00 AM
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James Jefferies.
James Jefferies.

THIS is the first year of full-scale plantings of GM canola in WA.

While there has been much media interest in contamination issues thanks to the situation that has developed between a GM canola grower and his organic farm neighbour in Kojonup, just how successful have those who have grown GM canola found the exercise?

Farm Weekly grains writer BOBBIE HINKLEY spoke to a GM canola grower, a conventional grower and an organic grower to compare the three operations and to hear their thoughts on future plans for each system. Follow the three articles online this weekend over Friday February 25, Saturday 26 and Sunday 27.

AS a conventional grower of canola, barley, oats, hay and lupins James Jefferies is the proverbial meat between the sandwich in the GM debate.

Mr Jefferies believed that if interested parties stood back to look at the big picture they'd find both GM and organic growers were actually headed in the same direction - the desire to farm with less or little chemical use.

He said if a cross section of growers got together to nut out the logistics of WA cropping, 99.99 per cent of the group would undoubtedly choose to use less chemical but nevertheless spraying was a reality and GM technology was one way to get around it.

However, Mr Jefferies' integrated weed management (IWM) program was bolstered by sheep rather than GM crops.

"For me I don't want to rely too heavily on Roundup and that's why I don't think I'll use GM technology in the future," Mr Jefferies said.

"I want to keep it as a tool.

"For my IWM program sheep are better than GM at the moment.

"There are so many things in our tool belt that we can use before GMs."

Some of those tools included the use of the Harrington Seed Destructor (HSD).

"I don't want to kill another chemical and I don't want to have Monsanto looking over the fence," he said.

Mr Jefferies' secret was to keep the regime simple by re-pasturing and locking down paddocks for up to five years for sheep to graze out the weeds.

Once grazed out the paddock would be planted back into the rotation and put back into crop.

Mr Jefferies said if he had a larger cropping program it might be a different story and GM might enter the equation.

"We need guys like Brett Fowler who go all out with these kinds of ideas," Mr Jefferies said.

"They're the gems of our industry and the rest of us can learn so much from them.

"But the organic guys aren't like that, their hands are tied and they are working on smaller operations.

"Whether we like it or not our industry has got to do with quantity and that's where organic growers enter a niche market because they can't produce on a large scale.

"If we all move there we will destroy the Australian grain industry."

Mr Jefferies' TT canola long-term average was 1.5t/ha but slumped to 500kg for the 2010/11 season.

Although yields were down screening results were extremely good and Mr Jefferies credited a combination of his fertiliser and spray package for that.

After applying 50 units of urea and 75 units of NitroPlus, Mr Jefferies didn't know how his canola would shape up due to the poor season.

"But despite that this year turned out to be the best year we've ever had for weed kill," he said.

"We had March rain and we were able to really thump the weeds so our spraying program really wasn't very tricky at all, plus with so much stock we were also in a position to use a rotation to utilise the sheep as a weed killer."

Mr Jefferies' normal agronomy package consisted of Roundup, Sprayseed and Select.

Like many WA growers, as soon as a paddock started to get too expensive he put sheep on it.

"Simple works and doesn't cost big dollars," Mr Jefferies said.

"In the GM debate we're probably aligned with GM farmers over the organic growers even though we don't use GM technology and we can see both sides of the debate.

"We farm this way because the dynamic works and there is a responsibility to manage the risk.

"There's always a variable somewhere whether it be rain, plantings on heavy or light country or the time of seeding.

"Canola is just like that."

Mr Jefferies said if seed companies could produce drought and frost-tolerant GM varieties, then GM would definitely be the future for almost all canola growers in WA.

"We kept costs to a minimum this year and it cost about $200/ha to put the canola in," he said.

But despite this, Mr Jefferies said he would reduce his cropping program again this year.

"It's just disappointing that there's no premium for non-GM grain and that the reality is many of us, myself included, don't really care about it when we're buying from the supermarket shelf," he said.

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