THE introduction of new barley varieties has bought better opportunities to northern Wheatbelt growers.
Mingenew farmer Clancy Michael said varieties such as Spartacus, which could handle more variable conditions, had increased the potential to grow sustainable crops in a their northern rainfall zone, with its sometimes unfavourable conditions.
“There is more barley being grown around here now and there is more of an incentive to grow barley in the north,” Mr Michael said.
“There is more of an appetite and there are better varieties coming through now that will work for this area.”
With an exceptional season, Mr Michael said this year was a good year to grow barley and he predicted many other farmers in the area would start to grow barley over the next few years.
Mr Michael said as the soil health improved and new varieties were released, growers would experiment more with barley.
“Barley is a relatively new crop for us,” he said.
“We think barley will fit more into our rotation and it’s about extending that rotation overall.
“Most of us are trying to look away from a traditional wheat, lupin and canola rotation and one other reason, I think, is the increasing levels of sclerotinia that is hosted by both canola and lupins.”
But Mr Michael, who grows mainly Spartacus and Roslyn, warned the risk of brome grass seemed to be increasing as the barley rotation was extended.
“I think it’s happening everywhere and that is a reflection that the lupin rotation has moved away a bit further,” he said.
“Lupins are still a very important crop in the region and certainly it would be useful to have more options for lupins, especially GM lupins.”
Lupins can be a very profitable crop in the north in terms of yields but unfortunately the prices don’t necessarily reflect that.
And wheat production remains the bread and butter of the northern Wheatbelt, with most of the alternative crops grown to complement the wheat crops.
If you continue on a similar rotation you will soon find the earth’s use by date.
With a majority of his program on sand plain, with some clays and grey clays, Mr Michael has worked hard on his soil amelioration program with deep ripping, mouldboard ploughing and spading.
He said Plozza ploughing was also common practice in the area.
“Grain is the main game here and it seems to be working quite well, particularly now where there is a lot of soil amelioration going on,” Mr Michael said.
“It doesn’t matter what you do it seems to have an impact and to do nothing is not an option any more.
“All the work is counteracting non-wetting soils and all those things associated with our sand plain soils.”
Mr Michaels said most of those farming in the area were “reasonably good at managing the fragility of our soils compared to what we used to do”.
“The key is diversity for us, but the soil amelioration has probably been one of the biggest quantum leaps up here.
“It doesn’t matter what you do, whether it’s mouldboard ploughing, spading or deep ripping, it all helps.”
Most growers in the area have a program of doing something with their soils and are busiest in autumn.
Mr Michael said liming regimes and a lot of spading were common in the region.
“Most people have done a lot of spading on their property, not so many have done mouldboarding, but deep ripping is very strong,” he said.
“There are big liming programs but not so much this year because people ran out of money.
“People have to do something and especially last year people may have picked up a minimum of 400 kilogram yield increase from working their soils.
“The price of fuel has gone up a lot and that will influence people’s decision-making, because a lot of that soil work requires fuel and I think there will be some re-examining of their programs because fuel prices are probably up by 40 per cent.”
Working the soils has continued to show a contribution to yield percentage for the Mingenew property, making it possible to trap more water with the higher rate of rain inconsistency.
Mr Michael said the retention of water also came from liming and getting access to the water down deeper and making the root systems grow deeper which produces wonderful crops.
“We have done a lot of liming to get our pH levels back up and liming has always been big here,” he said.
“But there is a big emphasise on liming now and it has definitely increased our soil health.”
Current pH levels in the surface soils are about six with subsoils coming up to about five.
The higher pH levels give the plant incentive for the roots to grow down, which Mr Michael said was another reason why barley had becom more viable.
Mr Michael said another tool they use for soil health is access to the Roundup Ready technology.
“Certainly there is a lot of publicity with Roundup,” he said.
“But it’s an essential tool and Roundup has contributed very much towards soil health and our ability not to have to use tillage.
“The use of Roundup is only strategical and we can maintain coverage.”
Mr Michael also grows Roundup Ready canola for agronomic reasons saying it’s all about diversity and the ability to look after the Triazine molecular as it’s essential in their lupin phase for effective weed control.
“You need to keep expanding what you are trying to do and keep diversifying,” he said.
“If you continue on a similar rotation you will soon find the earth’s use by date.”
With all the hard work put into the growing season the reward has started to pay of as the Michaels start their 6000 hectare harvest program.
Ripping into their barley on October 23 Mr Michael said it has gone feed, due to high screenings, which isn’t uncommon for the area.
“Barley historically in the area has always been feed so people haven’t been able to do malt, it’s reasonably new that people may be able to get malt,” he said.
Mr Michael believes most of the northern area will come out very good this year after a fantastic season.
“Our season was fantastic and we had a later start than what we would wish for, but the growing season was one of those dream runs till September and it just stopped,” he said.
“We didn’t have the reserves of moisture that we thought and being a later start it suffered more in September than what we would have liked but the crops will be solid.
“There potentially may be a few small grain issues when we get into it, but the crops overall will be reasonably solid.”
Mr Michael said the dry September potentially took off half a tonne from the yield with the bottom of the head struggling to fill.
“The potential was going to be huge,” he said.
“Last year we got out of jail, but we needed this year to be good to follow it up.
“We can go one year of a tough season but we can’t go too many more than one.”