WA growers explore summer crop options

28 Jan, 2012 02:00 AM
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A rare sight: Harvesting wheat and sowing winter crops at the same time on Ray Fulwood's Meckering farm. Photos: WANTFA
A rare sight: Harvesting wheat and sowing winter crops at the same time on Ray Fulwood's Meckering farm. Photos: WANTFA

SUMMER rains have meant growers throughout WA have seized the opportunity to sow summer crops.

Historically, WA hasn't always been a large producer of summer varieties compared to its Eastern States counterparts but some growers have made the most of additional moisture by sowing sorghum, pea and millet varieties, largely for their stock.

One of these growers is Meckering local, Ray Fulwood.

The summer crop trial which has been overseen by WA No-Tillage Farmers Association (WANTFA) research manager Matt McNee is set to establish whether or not summer crops might have a future role to play in central Wheatbelt cropping rotations.

Growers in coastal parts of the Esperance and Albany port zones are renowned for their ability to plant summer crops.

But typically, those in the central and eastern Wheatbelt have missed out due to the lack of a reliable follow-up rainfall event after seeding.

Mr Fulwood believed summer cropping might be the direction farmers needed to go in order to make the most of every opportunity, so he planted 42 hectares of sorghum, 3ha of millet and 80ha of the tropical legume, cowpea as a trial.

Mr Fulwood said the crops, which would grow for up to four months, would provide great ground cover and if they didn't receive enough further moisture to yield well he would happily to write them off for their erosion and nutrient fixing benefits.

Mr McNee said Mr Fulwood's summer cropping trial could also imply a number of things about climate change in Australia.

He said the WA farmer's ability to plant more summer crops than in the past showed evidence of more summer rainfall under climate change scenarios, just as climate change experts predicted.

He also said the opportunistic sowing of summer crops took advantage of unpredicted rainfall and adapted farm production to a climate-constrained world.

Mr McNee said summer cropping programs demonstrated the difficulties of managing the logistics of a farm business as seasons started to change.

And that was made evident by Mr Fulwood's ability to harvest this year's winter wheat crop and sow part of his summer rotation at the same time.

"It's interesting that the Fulwoods are able to do that this year," Mr McNee said.

"I've seen a lot more summer cropping around than in other seasons and quite a few of Ray's neighbours are also doing it."

Mr McNee said the late 2011/12 winter crop harvest had also held a lot of WA growers back from attempting to summer crop.

But on the south coast of WA, Farm & General agronomist, Greg Warren said Esperance farmers had been making the most of summer cropping opportunities for years.

Although summer cropping was still viewed as an opportunity in the region, rather than a reliable yearly income earner, southern coastal summer crops were usually sown for forage rather than grain and seed.

"In WA the market for summer grain and seed is too small which means WA growers don't reap the same benefits as their counterparts on the east coast," Mr Warren said.

"Some farmers around Wellstead have been lucky enough to tap into the birdseed market in the past but usually summer crops in the southern coastal regions are sown for stock grazing."

Mr Warren said a large number of Esperance livestock producers put in other perennials like Kikuyu and Panic grasses.

But much of that pasture was sown specifically for permanent livestock purposes.

"Percentage wise, when we compare the amount of summer cropping that's going on in southern regions to three years ago when we had the same kind of summer, the hectares have gone up," Mr Warren said.

"On the coastal sandplain at Esperance some farmers who are continuously cropping have put in small amounts of summer varieties this year to use up some of the left over soil moisture.

"It would be good to be able to do it nearly every year like Eastern States farmers but we just can't."

Mr Warren said every two or three years would present itself as being a good opportunity to put summer crops in near the coast but there would still be difficulties in getting rid of the grain due to the lack of available markets in the State.

"To get the value out of a summer rotation, Esperance and nearby growers need to seed their crops in late October or early November and that way they will have pasture in January and February when their stock needs it the most," he said.

"If we got another rain event now and growers decided to seed summer crops it would hardly be worth it because the crop wouldn't be viable to put stock on until late in March or early April."

By that stage of the year growers would usually start to see some green feed starting to come through in their paddocks.

Mr Warren said heavy graziers could still plant their summer crops and perhaps benefit from the yields but not many others would.

"Growers really needed to make those kind of decisions when they had heavy rains in October," he said.

"A summer rotation is absolutely something you would usually need to plan for before harvest.

"Growers not only need to have moisture in the ground but they also need to be pretty certain about getting some more rain after the crop is in the ground.

"The seeding process dries out the top of the soil profile and as a result there would almost always be a very patchy germination so farmers need to know there's another rain coming to get an even germination and crop."

p WANTFA's summer crop data will be collated and published in the first half of the year.

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READER COMMENTS

Bird Seed Lady
2/02/2012 2:36:54 AM, on Farm Weekly

With all the disasters going on all over in the United States, I think this is a good idea.

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