SUMMER CROPS are springing up across the southern grainbelt as growers enjoy excellent soil moisture profiles following a wet winter crop season last year.
Usual crops of choice are millet, sorghum and corn, but South Stirlings farmer Ashton Hood is trialling a long season canola.
Normally receiving annual rainfalls of 420mm, last year the Kojaneerup property he farms with parents John and Dorothy received a whopping 610mm, which resulted in extensive waterlogging.
While frustrating, the upside is that it is providing Mr Hood and the Stirlings to Coast Farmer research committee member an opportunity to trial summer crops.
Mr Hood planted 10 hectares of Hyola 970CL - a Clearfield, long season variety - on November 11 last year with 100kg/ha of K-Till fertiliser.
"Where we planted it was a very wet part of the paddock last year and it has good subsoil moisture," Mr Hood said.
"We had been talking about summer crops for a while at the Stirlings to Coast Farmer group but the consensus was there wasn't much gain in it apart from the feed side.
"But with this canola you can still harvest it at the end of the season and it hopefully sorts out that autumn feed gap as well."
Since the crop was planted, it has received 80mm of rainfall, and Mr Hood said it was going very well.
While not particularly impressive to look at compared to a shorter season canola crop due to the less lush, motley coloured leaves, Mr Hood said the crop offered the "entire package" as a graze and yield option.
"It's at about 6-8 leaf growth stage but it will keep putting out leaves until it gets a certain amount of cold days on it and then it will turn reproductive, which hopefully won't be until the middle to late winter," he said.
"I will probably give it some nitrogen once we get into autumn and get a bit more regular rain but then we'll treat it like all our other normal canola once we get into April and there's no sheep on it."
The plan is to graze lambs on the crop within the next two weeks, with Stirlings to Coast Farmer research agronomist Jake McGuire weighing the sheep to check progress.
The crop will also be used as a demonstration site for field walks, allowing the group's members to check its progress.
Mr McGuire said there had been plenty of interest in summer crops this season following the wet conditions last year, particularly as a way of filling the autumn feed gap.
"In the late autumn and early winter when the stubbles lose their punch, the guys are looking for that feed option,"he said.
"As well as helping fill that gap, there is also a very high yield potential with the 970CL."
However, Mr Hood said one of the drawbacks to growing the Clearfield variety was the lack of weed control options for summer weeds.
"That is definitely going to be a challenge - there's a few summer weeds in there now like nightshade and melons so we'll have to trial a few things," he said.
"I think we'll just graze it and then maybe look at what comes back and try something but that is one of the problems with it - there's not a lot of options.
"The hope is to get the sheep to eat as much of the weeds as we can."
Insect control was also a challenge as Mr Hood said the green crop acted "as a beacon" in the otherwise summer landscape.
"We had cabbage moth in there but didn't spray because we were harvesting," he said.
"That's the thing - it's got to survive these types of challenges otherwise it's not viable.
"My farmer's analogy is that if the volunteers from last year can survive over summer, so can this."