Marshalls riding high on summer sorghum

Kate MatthewsCountryman

The Marshall family, farming east of Pingelly, aren't afraid to try new farming systems and methods.

Well known for a clover seed business, Les and nephew Andrew have also switched from Merinos to Samms, they have dabbled in aquaculture and have a small vineyard.

And this year, they are growing summer crops.

On January 5, the Marshalls received 25mm, the highest single rainfall event in one day for 2011, bringing the total for January to 56mm.

To take advantage of the rain, son-in-law Darren Baker suggested a summer crop and the Marshalls planted 20 hectares of sorghum.

With solid January rains, Les said there could be some truth to climate change. "We may have to adapt to climate change and planting summer crops may be something to consider," he said.

When the crop reached 1.2 metres high in April, twin baring ewes were put on the paddock to get an extra source of vitamin E and energy.

"We planted the sorghum to take advantage of the soil moisture and to combat the lack of feed on offer in paddocks after the previous shocking year," Les said.

After the success of their first summer crop, the Marshalls have decided to take advantage of the late spring rains and planted 35ha of Shirohie millet in October and 35ha of Feedex sorghum in November.

The millet was planted at 10kg/ha and the sorghum at 5kg/ha with 100kg of fertiliser consisting of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium.

Both varieties were sown to a depth of 1cm.

From January to November 10, the Marshalls had recorded 470mm of rain.

It's been a complete turnaround from last year where they recorded 125mm of rain in the growing season.

"We'll make our minds up on summer crops in due course and it depends on the benefits we get out of it," Les said.

"It can deplete quite a few of the nutrients which we will have to replace but you have to try these things.

"Plus the paddocks we selected wouldn't have given us anything so we have gone from nothing to something."

Les said sorghum and millet need to be grazed before seed set for the maximum megajoules of energy and palatability.

"That's usually 70 to 80 days post seeding. Sorghum, of course, can't be grazed prior to 60cm in height as it can be toxic to livestock under certain circumstances.

"Now with our WA summer, post October seeding of millet is probably too extreme in temperature for good establishment.

"Sorghum, on the other hand, can tolerate more extreme temperatures and could be planted up to the end of January."

Les said for those interesting learning more, the NSW Department of Agriculture website had valuable information.

The seed he used was imported by Irwin Hunter and Co from the eastern states. He said the integrity of the seed was beyond reproach in terms of cleanliness and quality.

Fast facts *

_WHO: _Les and Andrew Marshall, Dutarning

_WHERE: _East Pingelly

_WHAT: _Mixed farming

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