POSITIVE vibes were in the air last week as Nathan Lawrence powered through harvest which, if all goes to plan, will be finished in about 10 days.
With high grain prices and above average yields for most of his crops, Nathan was in high spirits when Farm Weekly visited last Thursday with 800 hectares of their total crop already harvested.
Nathan farms with his wife Kylie, their two sons Veejay (4) and Max (2) and parents Allen and Cheryl.
They own about 809ha and lease a further 1214ha in the Southern Brook area.
The Lawrences planted 1500ha of crop this year, comprising 220ha of barley, 700ha of wheat, 310ha of canola, 40ha of hay, 200ha of lupins, with the remaining 30ha planted to oats.
During harvest Nathan drives the header, his friend Josh Humfrey is in the chaser bin and Allen helps out with moving the machinery from paddock to paddock.
Looking across the wheat crop as it was being harvested, Nathan said he was pleased with all the crops especially given the less-than-ideal seeding conditions which saw him sow with no more than four millimetres of rain.
Even with a dry patch during September, Nathan said a soft finish to the growing season was likely responsible for the good yields.
“During seeding it was so dry and we had just leased another farm and I was thinking ‘what have I done?’ because we had sown it all and it was just blowing away due to some severe wind events,” Nathan said.
“We lost a bit of yield (in some areas) so we thought we would be getting below average crops at the start, but considering how it has all turned out with good yields and grain prices, it’s happy days.”
La Trobe was the variety of choice for barley as it had been reliable for the Lawrences over the past three seasons.
With a preference to change up varieties every few years, Nathan said he has been waiting to hear of a new barley variety being made available.
He plans to still plant La Trobe next season but hopes to try one tonne of something new.
The barley crop ended up yielding much better than Nathan had first expected after seeding.
“I sprayed one paddock and I would have said it was battling to do 3t/ha and it went 4.2t/ha, so that fine finish made all the difference,” he said.
“The yield averaged 4.2t/ha with the best paddock going 5.2t/ha so we were over the moon with that.
“I had to get dad in the header to have a look because it was even going 6.5t/ha in some patches.”
Their barley usually averages 3t/ha so it’s no wonder Nathan was pleased with the outcome.
Although the yield was impressive, the quality of the barley crop was compromised due to a lack of protein, which Nathan suspected was because of the soft finish and the difficulty in trying to get adequate amounts of nitrogen on throughout the year.
Most of the barley went feed with about 67t hitting the malt grade.
Wheat also performed well this season for the Lawrences, with the Scepter variety achieving an average yield of 3.7t/ha.
Some of their lighter country was hit by frost which brought the average yield in those affected areas down to 3.2t/ha.
But with a typical long-term average yield for wheat of 2.5t/ha, the frost damage proved to be quite limited.
This season’s yield was consistent with the past two years which have averaged between 3.5-3.7t/ha.
“We have had a couple of good years but we have been putting more fertiliser and other things on,” Nathan said.
Similar to the barley, the wheat quality was also down with low protein, which Nathan believed was also a reflection of the soft finish.
But he said the hectolitre weight was good, at about 83hl, and the wheat ended up going ASW1.
“It would be nice to have a bit higher protein but given prices at the moment and yields we have been getting, we are happy,” he said.
Canola was the worst performing crop with the dry September affecting the yield and quality.
With an average yield of 1.5t/ha, the canola was sitting at what was typical for the Lawrences, but considering the conditions they were expecting 1t/ha and were pleased with the result.
Nathan said the quality was down about two per cent from last season, at 48pc oil content which he put down to the dry September as it caused many flowers to fall off over three to four days.
Although the hay wasn’t quite as good as hoped, at 5t/ha Nathan was still happy with it.
The 40ha crop produced about 600 round bales.
To take the crop off, Nathan uses a Case 2166 header from around 1998 with a nine metre comb, which they have had for about six years.
Despite its age, Nathan said it’s a reliable machine and does the job well.
Although they had a little bit of rain two weeks ago – about 2mm – which held them up for half a day, so far the harvest had been relatively smooth sailing.
Nathan said he was perhaps too keen to start harvest, kicking off on November 1 in the barley.
“When I started it took me about five days to do 50ha because the barley was still a bit green and the weather was cool, but at the moment it is spot-on harvest weather so hopefully Mother Nature looks after us for the next few weeks,” he said.
“In terms of time we are going really well.
“I don’t want to curse myself but I think we are probably three to four days ahead of where we would normally be.”
Nathan said he was helped by having a demo header out when he was doing canola, which meant he finished most of the crop in a day.
“If the weather holds off, I think we should be done in one and a half weeks,” he said
The operation has had some significant changes over the past decade, particularly in terms of machinery upgrades and changing farming practices which turned a corner for the farm.
“A few years back we had some really bad seasons – things just weren’t going right,” Nathan said.
“We were a bit behind the times with our farming practices and we didn’t have much machinery.
“Over the past 10 years we have invested more in machinery and started outlaying more money on fertilisers and chemicals and getting good advice from agronomists and farm advisers and we have been making better returns.
“But the past few years have helped us out – we have put more crop in and with the prices and yields now, we are going the right way.”
Coupled with cropping, the Lawrences also run about 1200 breeding ewes – 200 of which are Poll Dorset with Merinos making up the balance.
They also run the Canternatting Poll Dorset stud.
Nathan said summer feed was not a concern as there will be plenty of stubble to run the sheep on.
As the fifth generation farmer in his family, Nathan has aspirations to build the farm for his sons if they wish to carry it on in the future.
“I would also like to start investing in some more land to expand the farm, so we will see what happens,” he said.