THE value of running a balanced sheep and cropping enterprise was never more evident than in 2018 for the Moir family of Glenelg Estate, Amelup.
Graham Moir and his sons Murray and Brenton planted 3100 hectares of crop last year, made up of mostly canola and wheat with some barley and oats for sheep feed.
They also run 4000 Prime SAMM commercial ewes in conjunction with the Glenelg Prime SAMM stud.
Yields were down on average across the 2018 cropping program, but with sheep prices at all-time highs there was some consolation in a challenging season.
The cropping side of the operation saw 1400ha of wheat harvested in 2018, with 1000ha of canola coming off also.
The wheat was made up of the Trojan, Mace and Scepter varieties and across the board yielded 2.2-2.3 tonnes a hectare.
The canola went 1t/ha and comprised of the Bonito and Stingray varieties, while La Trobe and Planet barley was also grown and averaged 3t/ha.
Murray said there were mixed results in the cropping program, depending on the soil types crops were grown on.
“We finished seeding at the end of June, which was probably a week or two later than when we traditionally finish,” he said.
“But due to the late start to the season we weren’t really sure what to expect with crop performance.
“We had a wet August but then there wasn’t much rain in September and we actually questioned whether it was worth putting nitrogen on in spring at one point.”
In the wash up, after finishing harvest in mid-December, the Moirs were reasonably happy with how things turned out given the lack of growing season rainfall.
“The barley was better than expected, we have had trouble getting the barley to yield in the past few years and it just hasn’t competed with the performance of our wheat,” Murray said.
“Whether that has been the rotation or where we have grown it, or maybe we just don’t put as much focus on it as our wheat, especially nitrogen-wise.
“It got a bit more nitrogen this year, but whether it yielded better due to that or just the luck of the draw we are not sure.
“Overall it seems barley has yielded better across the southern areas than most people thought it would by the sounds of it.”
Despite a low yield in the canola, the Moirs said it was looking worse at some points in the year.
“We are pretty happy with where it got to in the end,” Murray said.
“The canola was pretty mixed, some of it looked good all year but didn’t yield well and other paddocks that looked terrible really surprised us at harvest time.”
The severe wind events that hit the region in winter didn’t do too much damage to cropped country, but pasture country was affected.
“We had green pick in paddocks and that was just blown away,” Brenton said.
“The livestock suffered more than the crops and we had the mixer and feeder still going into August.
“It was more annoying than anything, for a while there every time you went outside to do something it seemed to be blowing.”
Due to the late start the Moirs did drop 800ha out of their cropping program.
“Our enterprise mix usually sits at 70:30 in favour of cropping but this year we were at 60:40,” Graham said.
“We dropped 300ha off the cropping program in March, because we thought it might be a tight start and then another 500ha as the year progressed.
“We made the decision to drop paddocks out of crop so we didn’t have to sell off any sheep and it proved a good move in the end.”
Some of the country that didn’t get cropped was deep-ripped and planted to Lucerne.
It was the first time the Moirs had tried deep ripping and they can see plenty of potential in the system.
“We did about 200ha of non-wetting country that was never going to grow anything with how dry it was during winter,” Murray said.
“We didn’t get a lot of clay up but the soil got mixed and it definitely had results.
“Not long after we seeded it, we had a shower of rain and the Lucerne bolted away over a weekend it seemed.
“We just wanted to try something that might lift those non-wetting soils and it looks pretty exciting at this stage.
“We are planning to do more trials across the farm this year so that will give us a better indication of how it might work for us.”
In terms of the sheep operation, all lambs produced, except ewe lambs that are kept as replacements are sold off as prime lambs.
“We aim to have them off the place by the end of February, early March,” Graham said.
“We have been producing about six to seven lambs a winter grazed hectare and at that rate the sheep operation is competing well with the cropping program at the moment.
“We were pretty happy with our lambing percentage last year, which sat at about 100 per cent, but we had to put a fair bit into them to get that.
“We produced about 1200-1300 tonnes of silage in 2017 and 700 bales of oaten hay, but that was pretty much gone by the end of February, 2018.
“We bought in 150t of hay and carried over 150t of barley and 150t of lupins and we went through all that and had to buy in another 100t of lupins.
“So we went through the feed, but sheep are worth a fair bit at the moment so you have to do it and we kept our lambing percentage up.”
On the back of high sheep prices, the Moirs decided to renovate their shearing shed and that was completed in 2018.
“It was a significant investment and took about 470 man days to complete, but it is a long-term investment and we shouldn’t have to do too much to it for a long time,” Graham said.
“I think the sheep price is going to be sustainable for a while yet.
“We were going to keep our cull ewes last year and breed from them but because the season went sour we had to move them on.
“It was tempting to keep them because I can see the sheep price is going to stay where it is or go up further.
“Once the Eastern States gets up and running again they will have to find some numbers from somewhere to rebuild flocks.”
Graham believes there could be more upside in livestock than grain.
“We are seeing good grain prices at the moment, but in terms of the world price of grain, Australia is pretty high,” he said.
“I think you have to be careful about speculating and take these good prices while they are there.
“Our overseas competitors are becoming more efficient at producing grain and places such as the Ukraine and Russia can produce huge crops for a lot less cost than us, so Australia has some challenges in front of it.
“I think we are going to have to become even more efficient and try and grow more grain on the same hectares with similar inputs to compete.”