High hopes after season break

Corrina RidgwayThe West Australian

Salmon Gums grower Tim Osborne has more than 1500 reasons to smile as he watches his property, Moonta, turn gold under a healthy blanket of canola.

Tim, who farms with his partner Sheridan Anderson, started seeding 1500ha of canola on April 13, followed by 1200ha of barley and 2800ha of wheat.

"We had an ideal break to the season with moisture," Tim said. "We received 160mm in March alone."

As of Tuesday, growing season rainfall on Moonta stood at 145mm, including 15mm for August.

While the dry spell in June helped to promote root growth, one final rain event at the end of August will be needed to see crops through to harvest. Tim said Telfer canola was the variety of choice.

"Telfer here seems to follow the season," he said. "It has had an extended season flowering longer and later. It will help towards spreading frost risk.

"We are trialling Stingray as an alternative - it's not as showy but going on last season, it yielded the same as Telfer."

The 1100ha of Telfer and 400ha of Stingray were seeded at a rate of 2.2kg/ha with 50kg of MAP and 30 units of Nitrogen, which was a 50 per cent split of Urea and Max Am flow.

Cereals were sown on the same rates.

"On the previous years, we had dropped to 30kg of MAP and 15 units of N, which was maximising the yield on a poor year. We went back up this season," Tim said.

"I'm glad we did, it could have been disastrous."

Tim said the season so far had been remarkably smooth and boded well for inland canola crops.

"We have had a few aphids in the canola so had to spray all of it and there may be a few diamondbacks in there now - we will be monitoring that," he said.

A severe frost registering -4C in early July may have caused some damage to early flowering canola.

However, Tim said damage should be nominal and estimated a 5 per cent loss.

One day of 100km winds in July was also concerning because the canola was pushed on a 45-degree angle across controlled traffic lines.

Consequently, Tim recently called in aerial sprayer Goodwin McArthy to access the 400ha of damaged canola by helicopter.

The move minimised further damage to the crop from terrestrial spraying.

According to Tim, the largest hurdle will now be frost, with the risk of an event lasting until the end of September.

"We have had a good start, good mid-season and need to rely on a kind finish and minimum frost events," he said.

With cereals looking equally impressive, Tim remains tight-lipped on yield.

"I would like to think we will average 1.2t/ha on the canola," he said. "It's hard to say, we haven't had a crop like this before."

Tim intends to swathe 500ha of canola and possibly 500ha of Gairdner barley to spread risk.

After five seasons, Tim said canola was a firm part of the rotation given its use as a break crop with an economic return.

"We have gone from 300ha to 1500ha and it will definitely continue to be part of our program," he said.

While the season is unlike anything he has experienced in his time farming in Salmon Gums, Tim is still reserved - a characteristic he learnt after five seasons of drought.

"One thing that comes out of seeing that, is that it's always in the back of your mind - it can happen and it makes you wary," he said.

"A lot of the younger guys here were wondering if it would come good again.

"I was fortunate enough to have seen good seasons here, so it was a matter of time."

It's a case of good, better and hopefully best, as the season in Salmon Gums goes from strength to strength.

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