Burracoppin canola could hit 2t

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

Could this be the best canola crop in the eastern Wheatbelt?

Planted on April 2 at South Burracoppin, this canola is on track to reach a predicted 1.5 tonnes a hectare based on average yearly eastern Wheatbelt rainfall.

If, by chance, the crop receives above-average rainfall throughout the growing season, the yield potential could be as high as 2t/ha, something that is rarely heard of in the eastern Wheatbelt.

According to farm property manager Tony Murfit, the crop is the most advanced he has seen in 26 years of farming.

In fact, he believes this has been the earliest start to the season he has ever experienced.

"I had a good canola crop last year, but this one has started with a lot more moisture underneath it," Mr Murfit said.

"What I've learnt is that we don't get too many wet April sowing opportunities, so we took the opportunity this year and really got stuck into it.

"I knew I had enough moisture to get it up and growing before winter, and so from here on in it has a good chance of being something really special."

Mr Murfit said his canola average had been increasing steadily over the past few years, and was now at 0.9t/ha.

While he acknowledged conditions at other end of the season played a big part in final results, it is what he is doing at the start of the season that seems to be making a difference.

Mr Murfit believes the key to successful canola in the eastern Wheatbelt is weed control through fallow.

Owned by Warakirri Asset Management, the farm is 7500ha, of which 20 to 30 per cent is fallow.

Despite the fallow allowance in the budget, the business is reaping the rewards from the two-year break from cereals through consistent high canola yields.

"When you have 20 to 30 per cent of your program in fallow, it's a big hit, but you get that profit back twofold in the following year through the canola yields," Mr Murfit said.

Mr Murfit said prior to Warakirri taking over the property in 2011, canola had not been an option.

"I gave up on growing canola out here years ago. I tried and it just failed unless we had a flood, or really good summer or early autumn rain," he said.

"When Warakirri took over, they were very keen on growing canola out here and so I had to come up with a system to make it work.

"I knew that to control the ryegrass seed bank, I needed more than just a one-year break."

Mr Murfit said weeds even remained a problem when a break legume crop followed a fallow.

"In fact, it caused a widespread blowout in wild radish throughout the property because we had a lack of in-crop weed control," he said.

Mr Murfit said his system was simply about eliminating the risk of failure.

"Last year we achieved 1.1t/ha on our canola after a fallow on just 160mm growing season rain, so the system appears to be working," he said.

"I'm getting confident in pushing into some of the more risky soils that I wouldn't have grown canola in before."

The property has received up to 150mm since mid March, and now the fallow-canola-cereals rotation has been in place for several years, Mr Murfit has the confidence to sow early, knowing paddocks are already clean.

Seeding on Mawarra finished May 3, and the wheat and barley are also looking exceptional for this time of year.

"There is always the concern of a dry spell mid winter, but I know once the crop is germinated that it won't die and if we have average rain right through, then we are going to have a sensational crop," Mr Murfit said.

Mr Murfit has also trialled lime using ploughing and ripping to incorporate to depth.

"I picked the fallow paddocks with low pH soil and limed it at different rates, then ripped it and ploughed it in and got it to as deep as possible," he said.

"While the canola block average was 1.1t/ ha, the trial strips that were 3km long and 72m wide averaged almost 1.5t /ha.

"The results last year were remarkable.

"Those yields were equal to my cereal crops last year but clearly much more profitable given they were canola.

"This is the result I need in order to pursue production gains in the lower yielding, lower pH soil types."

According to Department of Agriculture and Food development officer Greg Shea, Mr Murfit's rotation system is an excellent example of how to grow profitable canola in a marginal rainfall district.

"Given the trend in the eastern Wheatbelt is towards receiving more of the annual rainfall outside of the growing season, this system a really good way to adapt to this new reality," he said.

"You can only really dry sow canola if you have the weeds under control, and this system certainly achieves that."

Mr Shea said canola was more than just a break crop in the eastern Wheatbelt, but also a standalone profitable cash crop.

"The break effects really are the icing on the cake," he said.

"If you look at this canola crop and know that it has 120 to 150mm of rain under it, you really have to reappraise what yield potential it could have. We could see incredible results here come harvest."

Mr Shea said the Grains Research and Development Corporation-funded Focus Paddock project had monitored 184 paddocks throughout the Wheatbelt since 2010, and the results showed that a greater inclusion of canola in crop sequences meant better weed control and suppression of root diseases, with the exception of root lesion nematode.

"Additionally, we know from research work that Fusarium crown rot inoculum does not significantly reduce unless there is a two-year break from cereals," he said.

"Tony's system will achieve this, especially where canola forms a thick canopy that encourages rotting of old cereal residues that harbour the disease."

Mr Murfit said running a corporate farming enterprise meant he was responsible to investors.

"The whole farm, every hectare, has to make a solid return for the investors," he said.

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