Mark sees opportunity in canola

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Mark Roberts is rolling the dice on early sown canola this year and after seeding the oilseed at the end of March already has plants out of the ground.

Like most of the State, rain clouds started to gather over Cascade during harvest and continued through early summer.

Then, when the remnants of Cyclone Lua dumped more rain on the area, the Roberts family decided to make the most of bountiful subsoil moisture and start seeding on their Cascade properties.

The moisture has aligned with sky-high oilseed prices, making canola an attractive option in an area where it is normally an opportunity crop.

But it's not just about prices - the Roberts intend to graze the early sown canola to see whether it could help to fill the feed gap between April and July.

Mark said they normally seeded vetches in March as part of their rotation and for grazing for their 7000 Merino and White Dorper ewes.

"(Canola is) probably a bit more of an experiment for us this year," Mark said.

"We're not in high enough rainfall for grazing canola as such - we don't really grow that much canola, but this year because it's so early we thought we'd take the opportunity to do some canola to see how it goes compared to just doing the vetch for grazing.

"We will graze and see how the season goes, and if it goes well we might be able to hold it back until a level and then let it go and use it for a crop."

In the past vetches have allowed the Roberts family to increase their stocking rate up to 20 DSE over a three month period, but the pulse is slow to start and Mark hopes the canola will provide more early biomass.

About 1300ha of vetches and canola has already gone in, which includes blocks of straight Crusher TT canola, straight vetches and a mixture of vetch and Garnet canola.

"The mix was 30kg of vetch and 2kg of canola just to get extra biomass," Mark said.

"(The Crusher TT was a) 4.5kg seeding rate and it had about 2L of Roundup before we planted it and that's it.

"When we get our next reasonable rain we'll probably just go and do some Atrazine then because if it doesn't work out we were probably silly to put our Atrazine on earlier."

Mark said they don't normally significantly adjust their cropping program to capitalise on prices, but this season they planned to put in more hectares of canola if given a good break of the season.

And if favourable conditions continue, they may also drop some field pea and barley paddocks out and plant canola instead.

"We don't generally (put canola in the rotation) but the gross margin at the moment is encouraging us to grow a bit more and with so much moisture in the soil, we'll just see when the next rain comes how much more canola we put in our program," Mark said.

"We've probably got another 1000ha planned for canola but just with the outlook of the price of barley, we might also sacrifice a few barley hectares if we get some more rain.

"Things can change a lot between now and harvest, but there are massive world stocks of wheat and unless something happens you just can't see cereal or feed barley prices being that fantastic.

"When the price of canola is $580 we'll definitely look at growing more canola in and with all the moisture in the ground you'd be silly not to try and take advantage of that."

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