KOJANEERUP farmer Scott Smith is one of the farmers who started their 2018 seeding programs earlier across Western Australia.
Mr Smith had already planted 900 hectares of Thumper canola when Farm Weekly called into his property last week, although he admitted he wasn’t going too hard yet, working “gentleman’s hours”.
“We’re just picking our paddocks at the moment and I expect we will finish the canola by the end of the month,” Mr Smith said.
“Then we will start the barley and put in the wheat in the back half of May.
“It’s still fairly positive and I’m looking forward to a better season than last year which was too wet to give us a good break.”
Mr Smith’s early start is on the back of a reminder from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) for producers to research their seeding programs thoroughly.
Research has shown early wheat sowing opportunities vary greatly between locations.
DPIRD has urged growers to consider historical rainfall data in association with stored moisture levels and variety selection when contemplating whether to sow before the traditional break of the season.
DPIRD scientists analysed climate data from 1975 to 2017 alongside wheat variety responses to sowing times at Mullewa, Merredin, Katanning and Esperance.
Research officer Meredith Guthrie said while historical data gave an indication of likely rainfall, it provided no guarantee.
“The results showed there was a 30 per cent chance of seeding opportunities in April at Mullewa and Merredin, while at Katanning and Esperance there was a 50 per cent chance,” Dr Guthrie said.
“The data from past years provides a useful means of assessing the chances of early season rainfall events, in contrast to three month climate forecasts produced in March and April which have a low predictive skill level.”
Dr Guthrie advised growers to consult DPIRD’s weather station summaries on its website to assess previous April rainfall data.
Despite widespread rainfall early in the year, stored soil moisture now varies greatly across the grainbelt, with levels particularly low in the north and eastern areas.
“Heavy rainfall that fell from ex-tropical cyclones Joyce, in January, and Kelvin, in February, is no longer present in the top soil, so growers would be wise to check stored moisture levels for their property when making early sowing decisions,” Dr Guthrie said.
Variety selection is another major consideration when sowing early to manage the risk of frost and heat stress.
DPIRD research officer Brenda Shackley said if growers chose to sow early, they would be wise to sow a long-season variety.
Ms Shackley said growers should match the maturity of a variety with the sowing date to maximise their wheat crop’s yield potential.
“Department early sowing trials, with co-investment from the Grains Research and Development Corporation, planted in April have shown mid-long maturing varieties typically yield best – except at frost-affected sites, where very long, winter maturing wheats produce the highest yields,” Ms Shackley said.
“In frost-prone areas, delaying sowing into May is one of the best ways to maximise yields, to avoid the risk of flowering during a frost event.
“In areas that are not at risk of frost, department trials show sowing in April offers no yield advantage compared with sowing in early May.”
DPIRD’s Flower Power tool can help growers to choose a variety’s sowing time to minimise the risk to frost exposure and maximise yield potential.
The online tool can be used to predict wheat flowering times of up to three different varieties at various sowing times and the risk of frost or heat stress in a selected location.