Acre gets top marks for teacher

28 Jul, 2016 02:00 AM
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WHAT started as a competition for the local show could be a new way of increasing capital on farm.

Dalwallinu District High School teacher Sarah Perrett "adopted an acre" from local grower Ben Strickland in 2014, after being challenged to enter an exhibit in every section of the Dalwallinu and Districts Agricultural Show.

"Having spent my childhood in Kojonup on a small farm, I thought I knew a great deal about farming," Ms Perrett said.

"I knew seeding occurred in April and May and lasted six or so weeks and that rain was welcome anytime from seeding until September, but not during harvest.

"However now as I look back and reflect, I realise how naive I was with my knowledge of farming."

Nicknamed Perrett's Patch, Ms Perrett worked with Mr Strickland to make all the input decisions regarding the hectare plot, including fertiliser, seeding rates, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and grain marketing for the Hindmarsh barley crop.

Mr Strickland, his wife Kirsten and son Joshua farm a 4000 hectare property east of Dalwallinu with father Rob.

During the season, Ms Perrett and Mr Strickland kept in regular contact on the day-to-day operations of the farm, as well as weekly crop inspections.

The deal proved to be a winner, with the crop winning first prize at the 2014 Dalwallinu show.

The crop also made a tidy profit - for what was an overall marginal year the barley yielded 1.35 tonnes per hectare and was sold for $254/tonne, netting Ms Perrett an end of season profit of $78/ha.

In 2015, Ms Perrett and Mr Strickland decided to grow Triazine-tolerant canola variety Telfer as a break crop in the cereal rotation however a mix up with a herbicide tank damaged the crop, which saw yields drop to 650 kilograms a hectare for the season.

Over the 2015-2016 summer school holidays Ms Perrett was involved in weed spraying, keeping summer weeds at bay with a WeedIT optical spot sprayer.

This year she is trialling the new Scepter wheat variety, which was sown on May 6 at 18kg/ha seeding rates, with 60kg/ha of K-Till fertiliser and 70kg/ha of urea.

So far the plot has received one litre a hectare and 300mL/ha MCPA LVE for in-crop weed control and 150mL/ha of tebuconazole fungicide.

It has received an additional top up of 60L/ha of urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) this week.

Ms Perrett said she "really happy" with how the crop was progressing, aiming for yields of 2.5t/ha in Perrett's Patch, with a farm average of 2.2t/ha.

"We have plenty of soil moisture and the last week was a really good growing week - we had a little bit of rain and some sunshine to help things along," she said.

"Farming, I found, is not as simple as it seems - it isn't a case of planting a crop and letting it grow," she said.

"Apart from learning the day-to-day management and physical side of things, I also developed a greater understanding for the risks associated in broadacre agriculture.

"I now have an appreciation of the pressures that farmers face and have learned that many aspects can be managed but not controlled."

The experience gave Ms Perrett the opportunity to ask all the "what if" questions in regards to farming.

"I constantly asked Ben a lot of questions and I learned a lot this way - what if the rain we had yesterday was twice as much? What if spraying was delayed by a week? What if we increased fertiliser this season? What if we got a plague of locusts? What if the market crashed at this point in the season?," she said.

The learning had been a two-way street, with Ms Perrett developing a method for setting the air seeder depth by colour co-ordinating the hydraulic ram doughnuts.

This allows the seeder depth to be easily managed by new or inexperienced workers.

Mr Strickland said it had been a "brilliant experience" and great to work with someone who was actively interested in farming.

"The other thing that has been great is that Sarah tended to ask left-field questions which aren't normally asked by other farmers and agronomists and it really makes you think about your decisions," he said.

Mr Strickland would love to see the idea taken further as a way of promoting farming but also as a way of generating capital.

"It wouldn't be a broad-scale solution to generating capital for farms but it could work with the right mix of people who share the same ideas," he said

Ms Perrett said the experience gave her a greater understanding of farming and the importance of promoting the industry more widely.

"As Ben has been an 'agvocate' to me, I would like to think of myself as someone who can actively promotes agriculture, by being involved first hand, asking questions and striking up conversations with friends and family about my experience in farming," she said.

"If we all start openly discussing the workings of agriculture, how better to educate everyone to the realities of modern day farming?"

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