AFTER finishing night shift spraying his paddocks for summer weeds last Thursday, David McLagan was about half way through his summer weed spraying for the upcoming season when he stopped for a chat with Farm Weekly.
He works in partnership with his parents Bruce and Lulut, operating their 6500 hectare, 4200ha arable farm at Miling, in the Moora Shire.
With his wife Jamille and their four-month-old daughter Amiya away in the Philippines, as Jamille completes the final stages of her medical degree, David is keeping busy with soil preparation ahead of seeding, which he expects to begin close to ANZAC Day.
Of the spraying program David said his biggest concern was managing caltrop, self-sown cereal and, in areas where canola did not grow in 2017, melons and roly poly.
To combat these weeds he is using a combination of Glyphosate, 2-4D Ester, Garlon and wetters, oils and ammonium sulphate.
With the majority of the property made up of heavy soils, David sees no need for deep ripping which allows more time to focus on targeting weeds and conserving soil moisture closer to seeding.
The farm received between 53 millimetres and 70mm in two rain events in January and although it has prompted the need for spraying, David said the rain could work in their favour.
“Back in the old days it used to be considered a curse to get summer rain but we now know the moisture we save actually delivers a decent return,” he said.
“With our drying climate, we certainly look to the eastern Wheatbelt to see how they manage to conserve moisture in their crops and summer rain is really looked on as a vital component of successful farming – I think we will be following suit in trying to conserve as much soil moisture as we can.”
The McLagans tend to stick to a fairly consistent cropping program, usually growing wheat, barley and canola in equal thirds on a rotational basis, which is the plan for the 2018 growing season.
“We try and keep everything as simple as possible for the sake of management and our calculations, we don’t try and do anything too complicated so it’s easy for seasonal staff to pick up,” David said.
In the future, they plan to increase their wheat production to up to half of their program and plant canola and barley in equal parts to the remainder.
Although the 2017 growing season was quite disappointing for the McLagans, with yields either average or below average, David said they learnt a great deal which has prompted them to reassess some practices and focus more on soil moisture conservation and seeding practices.
“We found that anything sown early did well and we probably should be chasing more moisture than we do,” he said.
“Traditionally we are in a fairly reliable rainfall area (about 350mm of annual rain) and because of that we typically sow shallow so that when there’s opening rain, the crop immediately starts growing.
“If we had sown a little bit deeper into the moisture, it would have taken a bit longer for the crop to get to the surface, but as it turned out with the very dry season, it would have meant that we had an advanced crop.”
Over the past 10 years, David has had a strong focus on clearing land, which he felt inspired to do after visiting Brazil where he saw the benefits of farming with 100 per cent cleared land.
“I realised that when I returned to our farm what trees and stone heaps represented in terms of farm efficiency loss,” David said.
“For us, with no stock anymore, we had no purpose for trees so we have actually gone quite aggressive on clearing within the confines of the law and just trying to clean up the farm, which would be our biggest preparation for seeding every year.”
Further soil preparation will include the spreading of 2000 tonne of lime at 2t/ha, which the McLagans do every year, targeting the worst paddocks, as well as ammonium sulphate which will be applied in mid-March at 187 kilograms per hectare and a MAP blend at seeding.
Scepter will be the variety of choice and make up most of the McLagans’ wheat program this year, after recently making the move from Mace, while barley will be planted to Scope.
Most of their canola will be planted to Yetna as David said its tolerance to summer weed herbicides allowed them to spray quite late.
David knows all too well the stress that farmers can experience, as he felt pressure come to a breaking point in 2011.
With no staff to assist, David and Bruce were operating the farm by themselves, causing David to regularly work 18-hour days for months.
Despite it being one of their best years on record, continuous machinery breakdowns and rain resulted in the pair completing harvest in February the following year.
“I look back and think it was just ridiculous,” David said.
“I ended up in a massive rut which was just the tipping point for me – I just couldn’t handle it anymore.”
A major shift for the McLagans was when they employed staff, which now includes two full-time and one or two seasonal employees, which David said has had a big benefit.
“From the 2011 harvest we produced more grain with just the two of us and now we have up to six people doing a smaller crop,” David said
“Since 2011 we’ve added another Class 8 harvester, a 40 tonne chaser bin and two more trucks.
“So that was a huge change in how we do everything and I rarely pull full shifts on anything during seeding and harvest, but spraying would be the exception because I’m pretty much the sole spraying operator now.”
The farm has been in the McLagan family for three generations, beginning in 1926 with David’s grandparents, William and Gwen who operated a 364ha wheat and sheep enterprise.
When Bruce and Lulut took the reins, they transitioned the business to be a 100pc cropping operation, which David plans to continue.
As a child David always knew he was going to be a farmer and said the agriculture lifestyle and peacefulness of the country suited him perfectly.
“I couldn’t picture myself doing anything different, my parents have given me an excellent opportunity and allowed me to grow the business how I wanted,” he said.
“I love the challenges that farming presents and I’m always looking towards the future and the expansion of the farm business for future generations.
“It’s hard work and there are many sacrifices along the way but I’ve been blessed with an excellent family, very good employees and most of all a very supportive wife and a baby I adore.”