Growers champing at the bit

Jo FulwoodCountryman

With seeding time just around the corner, central Wheatbelt farmers Darryl and Cath Richards have the tractor and seeding bar ready to go.

The south of Quairading farmers are keen to begin their 2016 program and according to Mr Richards, regardless of the rain he’ll have the tractor in the paddock by April 11, dry sowing clover.

Mr Richards also hopes to have his lupin program finished by the traditional start of Anzac Day.

But despite the start off this year, Mr Richards said he was in no rush to get the entire crop in the ground, and in fact planned to space out the program until well into May.

“I don’t want to finish any earlier than May 20, because our total wheat program is made up of Mace, and the Mace replacement, Scepter,” he said.

“This means I’ll be spreading out the flowering window across September in an attempt to minimise any frost damage.

“Two years ago we finished seeding in mid May, and the better yielding crops were the later-sown ones, so we need to space it out to cover all bases.”

The Richards run a mixed cropping and sheep business and believe sheep play a crucial role in weed management. Running 2000 breeding ewes and up to 2000 lambs each year, the business also crops more than 2600ha of owned and leased land.

Mr Richards said his sheep, both in terms of wool and meat, have been a profitable part of the business in the long term.

“I wouldn’t like to farm without sheep, but obviously a big challenge is sheep feed, particularly at this time of year,” he said,

“The sheep have played an important role in our summer weed management program, and I haven’t had to spray those paddocks we’ve had the sheep in over the summer months.”

With up to 125mm received over summer, weeds have been a major issue for the region. For many farmers, the cost of chemicals for summer spraying is a considerable impost on farm budgets.

“The first spray on one of the blocks was completed by a contractor straight after harvest since I was shearing but for the rest of the spraying program, I’ve been chipping away at it over the summer,” he said.

Mr Richards said the traditional weeds of caltrop, melons, heliotrope, prickly saltwart and windmill grass were generally easy to control with the right chemical packages, however, fleabane was beginning to prove more of a challenge for the area.

“The sheep also help with eating the fleabane, so it’s important for us to keep the sheep in the rotation,” he said.

Mr Richards believes the changing seasonal weather patterns are creating new challenges for crop farming, particularly given the dry winter periods the region has seen over the past few years.

“I’ve definitely seen a change in the weather patterns and rainfall in summer is becoming more normal, which means that in order to conserve the subsoil moisture and to reduce the carryover of disease, we are becoming more and more reliant on a summer spraying program,” he said.

“The winters are getting warmer and we seem to be having longer stretches of dry periods during the winter months, and also hotter, drier Septembers, which is impacting on the way we are farming our crops,” he said.

He said while he estimated that only 25 per cent of the summer rainfall received would be available as sub soil moisture for the upcoming seeding program, a bonus of summer rain was soil mineralisation.

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