High-tech fillip for hay exporter

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Variable rate technology (VRT) for everything from seeding rates to trace elements is boosting the bottom line for hay exporter SP Hay.

It’s the first season the company has used variable rate across the board but SP Hay WA manager Rob Pauley said it’s taken nearly six years to get to this point.

Mr Pauley said all of the company’s WA land, which ranges from Brookton to Bulyee to Corrigin and Kulin, has had both electromagnetic (EM) and gamma radiometric (RM) surveys, with the land broken in soil-type zones.

Deep sand is deemed -3, -2 is good sand, -1 is a sand over clay-type scenario and 3 is high thorium or gravel-type country.

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“We only soil sample now in all our zones and each one of those zones has one recipe,” Rob said.

“We’re pumping our good zones that we’re able to get our high yields on and the lower yielding zones don’t get any fertiliser, all that gets is 40kg of seed.

“The productivity of that one zone was a huge loss every year, so we don’t harvest it or cut it for hay.”

In previous years the company has done VRT with top up fertiliser through the airseeder and now does everything from lime and gypsum to seeding rates with the technology.

“All our pre-sowing application of muriate of potash is all VRT,” Rob said.

“Then we use MacroPro Extra… and we do a post application of nitrogen and potassium as well, but only in Brookton.”

After trials last year, about 2000 litres of wetting agent LureH20 was used this year and Rob said next year they hope to use it with VRT.

“Each year we’re having staggered germination on those -2 and -1 areas due to non-wetting sands,” he said.

“We hope to streamline Lure behind our press wheels on those zones because we don’t really want the weeds to come up between the rows and we’re going to use it as more of a tool for wetting of the soil for better emergence of grain in that area.”

SP Hay is fully integrated, meaning the exporter grows, processes and carts all of its own hay and grain, generally cropping 11,000ha in WA.

Of that, 5000ha is for oaten hay and the remaining 6000ha is barley and wheat.

Grain is harvested and delivered to CBH, while all the straw is collected by balers on the back of the header.

About 45,000 tonnes of hay and straw is exported to markets in Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan and the company exports almost a fifth of hay out of WA to Japan and is responsible for 30 per cent of WA straw exports.

A further 50,000 tonnes of hay is produced from the company’s South Australian operations.

“With the wheat and barley we’re mainly doing Buloke and Vlamingh barley and Mace, Yitpi and Wyalkatchem wheat,” Rob said.

Wheat and barley varieties are chosen for both grain and straw yield and quality.

“Wyalkatchem is a bit shorter (for straw) but we use that on the eastern parts of our farms just for the grain yield,” Rob said.

“The typical straw yield out there is generally about 30 per cent lower than here. In Brookton we tend to use anything with a high straw quality and we did use a lot of Gladius wheat, which has a very white straw. Marketing of that to Japan is an advantage, but we try to target more on the Australian Hard varieties for the premium there than for the white straw.”

Despite Japan being a major market for SP Hay, Rob said the tsunami and its impacts had little effect on its hay trade.

“Dairy cattle (in Japan) have actually increased in price,” he said.

“A dairy cow was probably worth $5000 before the disaster struck and now that’s gone to $7000. What they’re paying for feed there, plus the rise in the exchange rate, they’re spending more to feed their dairy cattle and for Japanese farmers the break even is a bit sad at the moment but they’re trying to hang in there.

“The tsunami only affected two ports and it was probably only one to 2 per cent of our market affected.”

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