Canola gambit looks shaky

Claire TyrrellCountryman

The Critch family bucked the trend this season and planted their biggest ever canola crop.

Tony and Judy Critch farm with their children Daniel and Tim and their wives Penny and Jen about 25km west of Mullewa.

This season the family put in 3500 hectares of five different canola varieties, more than doubling their previous biggest canola crop of 1500ha planted last year.

Tim said the change was mainly due to rotation and because canola fared so well last season.

"Last year our canola went really well so we decided to increase our canola program, but it has not been the right year for it" he said.

Last season the family achieved 1.7 tonnes per hectare on their canola, well above their average of 1.2 t/ha.

With just 131mm of growing season rain so far this year, the family faces the prospect of not being able to harvest some of the crop.

"If it doesn't rain again or if we don't get much more rain from here there is going to be a fair bit of canola that won't be worth harvesting," Daniel said.

He said if dry weather continued in the next fortnight the family might have to spray out some of their canola.

"We might just have to bite the bullet and desiccate the whole paddock to make sure there's no carryover of rye grass or radish in the next year's wheat crop.

"If there's no rain in the next two weeks and the forecast is glum that decision will be easy to make."

Daniel said he was unsure about what proportion of canola they might have to spray out and that decision would be made in the next two weeks.

The last substantial rain that fell on the farm was10mm on August 1.

The family planted Cobbler, Tawriffic, Crusher, Stingray and Snapper canola.

"About 50 per cent of our canola is Cobbler. Stingray and Snapper are new to us - the intention was to bulk them up to get into some newer varieties," Daniel said.

The family reseeded 200ha of Cobbler canola on June 9, at a rate of 4kg per hectare with 70kg of MAPSZC compound fertiliser.

"The second lot of seeds that came up are not looking good.

"That is really a cover up at this stage, because we already had atrazine so we had to put canola in," Daniel said.

The family started seeding in late April and were finished by May 29. All their canola was in by May 8.

Daniel said the paddock they reseeded had good plant establishment but a four week dry spell in May caused it to wilt.

"The paddock was in dry before we got 8mm of rain on April 28 so all the canola came up very well," he said.

"That particular paddock went from having a lot of plants to no plants in three weeks."

Daniel said he tried hand-watering the canola but nothing came up, which is when he made the decision to resow.

"About 10 days before we reseeded it, we took a vehicle out and put 10mm of water equivalent over to see what seeds were still in the ground," he said.

"No plants came up so we reseeded it."

Daniel said the farm needed at least another 25mm in the next month to make all the crops harvestable.

He said at this stage he would be happy with a 500kg/ha yield on canola and about 1.5 t/ha on wheat, compared to their long-term wheat average of 2 t/ha.

More than 60mm of summer rain fell on a portion of the family's farm, with storms in February delivering 50mm.

Tony said this only resulted in subsoil moisture for 10 per cent of their farm and wouldn't make much difference to overall yield.

Fast facts *

Who: Tony and Judy, Daniel and Penny, Tim and Jen Critch

What: 5000ha wheat, 3500ha canola, 400ha barley

Where: Tenindewa

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