Ripper of a start for Wellard

Headshot of Jenne Brammer
Jenne BrammerThe West Australian

After one of WA's earliest breaks of the season, the soil has started churning for Wellard Agri, one of the State's biggest grain producers.

The agribusiness giant is an advocate of mouldboard ploughing, and has incorporated the technique in its planting practices.

Wellard Agri chief executive Tim Macnamara said about 4000ha of the group's almost 24,500ha cropping program would be ploughed ahead of seeding this year at The Grange, Dongara, and Watheroo.

That follows on from 2600ha of land ploughed last year, which Mr Macnamara said delivered a 102 per cent return on investment in the first year.

"It's a big investment, eight full-time staff are dedicated to the ploughing program this year and we have invested further with a second plough," he said. "But there are strong benefits from ploughing at 300mm-350mm - we maximise moisture and can bury the non-wetting soils and the weed bank."

Mr Macnamara said using a Gregoire Besson 13-furrow plough, they targeted sand plain soils, typically where weed levels - in particular ryegrass - were high and showing chemical resistance. Non-wetting soils were also targeted.

Wheat is planted on the ploughed soils, which last year resulted in a yield performance increase ranging from 0.8 to 1.2 tonnes per hectare on similar soils at both Dongara and Watheroo. Meanwhile, there were significant chemical and nitrogen top-up savings.

Mr Macnamara said in addition to the benefits in the first year, evidence indicated there would be lasting benefits for the ploughed soil.

"Whether those benefits last three, five or 10 years is still to be assessed," he said.

Also being trialled this year over 100ha of weak grey-yellow sand plain at the Watheroo property is a Gregoire Besson 6m Heliripper. The front six tynes dig to 500mm and the rear six to 800mm.

Wellard supplies Claas machinery in WA, and is seeing the benefits in its own operation.

"By doing this we are aiming to break down the hard pan at depth, which allows the root structure to penetrate deeper depths of moisture and access nutrients not previously available," Mr Macnamara said.

It is the proven success from ploughing last year, plus generous early rainfall and a good pricing outlook, that leads Mr Macnamara to be optimistic about the year ahead.

The Grange had received up to 89mm, Watheroo up to 115mm and Kojonup up to 77mm since the start of March.

At Dongara, the 9900ha seeding program began last Friday, with the first paddock of canola going in the ground.

Mr Macnamara said seeding at Dongara was intentionally slow and steady, aiming to iron out any problems. It is planned that half the crop at Dongara will be wheat, predominantly Cobra and Mace.

Also to be planted at The Grange are Scope barley, Coromup and Gunyidi lupins, ATR Stingray canola and RR Hyola.

The Dongara cropping program runs alongside the livestock enterprise, including a large commercial Afrino flock, Droughtmaster cattle and recently introduced Charolais genetics.

At Watheroo, which is dedicated to grain production, 1500ha of canola was already in the ground by last Monday and starting to germinate, in addition to 600ha of lupins.

In total, 10,600ha will be planted at Watheroo, including Calingiri, Corak and Mace wheat, and Hindmarsh and Baudin barley, with some Scope being bulked up.

The Kojonup property, where Wellard's Hyfield Poll Merino stud is based, will grow wheat, barley and lupins across 4000ha.

Mr Macnamara said the Kojonup seeding program was also at the early stage of putting the machinery in the paddocks and ironing out problems with a view to starting in earnest in the next week or so.

"We have had generous rains throughout the State but we have had high temperatures at the weekend and are mindful that it is still early in the season," he said.

"We are watching the weather patterns and it will probably be another week or two before we are in the thick of seeding."

Mr Macnamara said GM canola was being planted across the Wellard properties for the second year.

"GM canola is quite a recent approach for us. We were struggling with weeds and the impact of ryegrass and the impact these were having on yield volumes," he said.

"So we are doing this in some ways for land and production benefits."

Although optimistic about the pricing outlook for most grains, Mr Macnamara said this did not influence his cropping program.

"We don't look at external factors and let them have an impact on our internal business," he said. "Rather, we look at what cropping and livestock operations can best suit our land based on soil type, geographic location, rainfall, etc, and aim to maximise profit per hectare."

Mr Macnamara said about 90 per cent of Wellard-produced grain was traded via major merchants, such as CBH.

But Wellard Agri also has direct relationships with international clients. Lupins and oats are sent directly to Bulgaria and Asia, barley to Indonesia, lupins to Turkey and canola and wheat to Japan.

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