Everything on track so far at Wongan Hills

Everything on track so far at Wongan Hills

Cropping News
Brad West started his seeding program on April 16 and it took approximately six weeks, with two seeders at 18 metre spacings, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, covering approximately 500ha a day.

Brad West started his seeding program on April 16 and it took approximately six weeks, with two seeders at 18 metre spacings, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, covering approximately 500ha a day.

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"We don't have a lot of canola that's yellow at the moment because so much of it was reseeded."

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SPORADIC light rain in April caused some early issues for one grower's crops near Wongan Hills, but overall the plant counts are looking healthy.

Brad West farms approximately 40 kilometres east of Wongan Hills, with his cropping program this year consisting of 13,000 hectares split between wheat (6490ha), canola (3530ha), barley (1640ha) and lupins (1260ha).

Mr West started his seeding program on April 16 and it took approximately six weeks, with two seeders at 18 metre spacings, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, covering approximately 500ha a day.

The entire program was dry seeded, however issues arose with three rainfall events of between three and five millimetre causing some of the seed to germinate and then die.

Mr West said if they had received 10 millimetres, it would have been an entirely different story, but in the end they had to reseed 1500ha of canola.

"We don't have a lot of canola that's yellow at the moment because so much of it was reseeded," Mr West said.

"We did 400ha of that from a plane, it's something I've heard the Canadians do all the time when it gets too wet and it worked quite well, so I was pleasantly surprised.

The wheat crops on the property are looking the best out of them all.

The wheat crops on the property are looking the best out of them all.

"Some of the lupins are also late and thin as we had the same issue with those and lost at least 50 per cent of the seed because of those early rainfall events, but we didn't bother re-seeding that."

While Mr West's rotations rarely change from year-to-year, the varieties he puts into the ground are often different.

In 2020, he chose Spartacus for barley, Round-Up Ready for canola, Jurien for Lupins and a combination of Sceptre, Havoc and Zen for wheat.

"When it came to our barley, we were already committed because it was all already in the ground when news of the Chinese tariffs broke," Mr West said.

"In saying that, I don't tend to change our rotations a lot, purely because you back yourself into a corner by following the season with rotations."

Unwanted small rainfall events were not the only problem, with small parts also affected by the wind events in May and June.

"We definitely didn't cop it anywhere near as bad as other areas, but we did lose about 150ha to wind damage over the two events," Mr West said.

"From that we reseeded some canola but didn't worry about the wheat, I don't expect that to come too much but really just wanted the groundcover for the rest of the year.

"We put it down really thick, at about 10 kilograms, so it would grow and get that cover to stop it blowing."

Mr West is in charge of all the on-farm management decisions, while his father-in-law Robert Sewell covers the office work and brother-in-law Peter Sewell also works on the property.

"I have a 19-year-old son doing a heavy diesel apprenticeship and my daughter is 16 and is boarding at Perth, neither of them have aspirations to farm," he said.

"Robert is very proactive on the succession side of things and Peter has a son, but he's only seven, so it's a while away until we know what he'll want to do."

Mr West also employs a soil biologist who does all the soil testing and an agronomist who takes control of all the herbicide recommendations.

"Our soil biologist also gives a recommendation on what fertilisers I should be using and any amelioration that needs to be done," he said.

"There's no guesswork, we put into action what they tell us, there's no point paying someone to give you recommendations and not following them."

While there have been some weather related issues this season, overall the crops are looking better than they were at the same time last year.

In 2019 the property received next to no summer rain and didn't receive an opening rain until June, with the falls then quickly cutting off in August.

The 10-year harvest averages sit at 2.5 tonnes for wheat, roughly the same for barley, 1.4t/ha for canola and the same for lupins.

Last year, the tonnages didn't come close to hitting that, with wheat at 1.9t/ha and canola at 0.9t/ha, purely because of a lack of rainfall.

1500ha of canola had to be reseeded, so there is only a little bit of yellow in the crops at the moment.

1500ha of canola had to be reseeded, so there is only a little bit of yellow in the crops at the moment.

The story has changed for the 2020 season, with 74mm of rain in February meaning there is subsoil moisture in the ground which wasn't there last year.

The property has since received 6mm in March, 5mm in April, 37mm in May and 38mm in June.

"June would normally be our wettest month and the long-term average is about 60mm, so we're well under that at about 40pc down," Mr West said.

"However our cereals are on line to be a good crop and if we can get our average spring rain, it should end up average, or even above, season."

The property also received 22.5mm of rain in last week's fall, taking July's total to approximately 25mm.

The almost inch of rain was exactly what the crops needed to keep going, but more spring rain will still be required to top them up.

On top of subsoil moisture, the summer rain had a second benefit and meant Mr West was able to get a knockdown for the first time in three years.

The sporadic rain also produced a few weeds before seeding started, prompting a second knockdown to take place.

Post applications of nitrogen on the crops have also been completed, with some science applied to work out from last year's yields, what is needed this season to grow the estimated yields.

"We're up to 65 to 70 units of nitrogen on our wheat and up to about 80 on canola and barley," Mr West said.

"Our compounds with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium applications are done at seeding time and we don't do any of that post."

With the fertiliser program finished, Mr West has moved on to the post-emergent spraying of broadleaf weeds in cereals.

"Net blotch in barley is very common, so we're always watching out for that and in 2018 we had quite a lot of sclerotinia in our canola, so we're spraying for that," Mr West said.

"Wheat we haven't had too many issues, there's a bit of yellow spot occasionally but nothing too serious."

The water for the spraying program comes from a rather unique source, with an onsite desalination plant turning salty underground water into fresh liquid gold.

"There are six reverse osmosis cells which salt water is forced through under pressure, that removes the salt and all the other hardness, producing around 35,000 litres of fresh water a day," Mr West said.

"It's pumped about four kilometres from the desalination plant to the top of the hill and then piped back down, so we've got contrast pressure and if the power goes out we've got water just from gravity."

With spraying due to finish shortly, it will be time for maintenance of the machines to get them ready for harvest.

"When it comes to maintenance, we did have a full-time mechanic on the farm up until a couple of weeks ago, so I'll be advertising for that role."

For Mr West, everything is on track, but finishing rains will be necessary to ensure a positive season.

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