Figures stack up on Lake Grace farm

15 Mar, 2001 05:52 AM
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WA graingrowers have within their means the ability to reach even greater heights in producing quality grain.

A decade ago it might not have been a commonly held view, but Lake Grace farmer and AWB Ltd director Laurie Marshall says there is now enough anecdotal evidence to support the claim.

"We've seen great strides made by WA farmers in the past 10 years," he said. "It has led to record grain production and I think, more importantly, an increase in the quality of grain grown."

The latter is a crucial aspect to achieve sustainable profitability in the face of increased input costs.

Mr Marshall admits that, when the AWB first promoted its visionary 2x10x2000 (2t/ha at 10pc protein by the year 2000) program in the early 1990s, he saw it as a major challenge.

For decades, growers had laboured long and hard to maintain a state average yield around 1.2t/ha. And as for 10pc protein ... get a life.

Today, Laurie said he has achieved a farm average protein of 10.8pc and has a five-year rolling wheat yield average of 1.82t/ha.

"I'm nearly there," he said. "But while I've hit and past 2t/ha the past three years have kicked the average down a bit.

"With a good year I'm confident of getting above 2t/ha and putting it the higher paying pools. That's where I need to be because the bar is being raised all the time."

Not that Mr Marshall minds, because he believes the future for graingrowers lies in producing quality grain that can be sold in a wider variety of segregations to increasingly discerning markets.

"That's where the big returns can be made," he said.

Mr Marshall believes better wheat varieties, the emergence of no-till farming and precision seeding machines, legumes in rotation and pasture phases all have played a part in increasing wheat yields and quality.

There still remains the equation that high yield equals low protein and vice versa, but Mr Marshall believes the high yield/high protein target is achievable.

"I haven't had that problem and I suspect it's because I've maintained a pasture rotation with a sub clover base that has provided soil nitrogen to the following cereal crop," he said." "I think a legume/crop phase has been important in maintaining protein increments."

Mr Marshall's wheat program has focused on the higher paying varieties such as Cascades and Amery (Hard), Stiletto and Westonia (APW) and Calingiri (Noodle).

Top dressing is no longer carried out because of cost pressures and the fact that the paddocks have a good super history.

Urea is spread at the rate of 60kg/ha in front of the seeder with 80-100kg/ha of Agstar TE with the seed. There are no post applications unless the season dictates and then only on selected paddocks.

Seeding rate is around 80kg/ha and attention also is given to keeping the best seed at harvest for the following season.

As far as machinery goes, Mr Marshall is convinced no-till is the way to go.

"Machines that can deliver good subsoil cultivation, precision seed placement and good seed-soil contact are now seen as the best method to achieve that important early crop vigour that sets up the plant's yield potential," he said.

"You only have to look at how these type of machines performed last year to see that.

"I've been no-tilling for 10 years and there's no doubt the plants develop a better root system and are more fibrous during the growing season, so they're taking up more available nutrients and moisture.

"The knife edge points allow that deeper working to break into hardpans and you get a good measure of chemical incorporation inter-row to reduce weed burdens.

"With the press wheel I believe you get better and quicker germination because seeding depth is more accurate and you get better seed-soil contact."

Mr Marshall also retains stubble so paddock blows have become of thing of the past, even though he runs a self-replacing Merino flock of 2500.

And he said sheep as also had a role to play.

"While you can't get a set formula for growing wheat, I think the clover in the system is important and I think it is one of the reasons why I can get higher protein," Mr Marshall said.

"With sheep you also have more flexibility with your rotations to ensure you not hammering paddocks with the same chemical family and building up resistance.

"In some paddocks, if I've gone three years on a cereal, legume, cereal rotation, I might re-sow clover in the fourth year to keep up the seed level.

"Depending the on paddock's productivity I might decide on a one or two-year pasture phase and if it's very light country that might be extended to three years."

Overall, Mr Marshall is seeing his soil developing a better structure under the no-till regime, which has encouraged the return of earthworm populations.

"I think we've got a lot of work to do to understand the soil and I would like to see more research on how soil fertility can lead to improved grain quality," he said.

"But I would like to think I'm on the road to achieving even better results."

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