Wet start proves challenge

Jo FulwoodCountryman

It’s been one of the wettest and earliest starts to seeding Cuballing farmers Roger and Libby Newman have ever seen in their farming careers.

“Looking out the window, you’d think it was July,” Mr Newman said.

Receiving 30mm for the year before Easter, Mr Newman said 80mm had fallen on his property throughout April, which was more than double the long-term average for Narrogin of 30mm and close to the wettest April on record.

“This area was very dry up until Easter, where a lot of other areas around the State had up to 100mm, but after these recent rains, there’s a lot of good moisture in the soil profile and we are now starting to talk about it being too wet to seed certain paddocks,” he said.

“The rain we received throughout April was unseasonal. It was reliable winter rain, which is quite unusual for this time of year, compared to what we’ve seen over the last 10 years,” he said.

Mr Newman said he’d seen some very wet patches throughout the property.

“We’ve had machines stuck rather than bogged. Since the farm is all minimum till, we don’t work the soil too deep, and we’ve been reasonably fortunate that we have enough area to move to, while we wait for patches to dry out,” he said

The seeding program began on April 15 and Mr Newman has completed seeding his 1500ha of canola. But like many farmers in the region, he is not in a rush to put in the cereals.

With the devastating impact of last year’s various frosts throughout late September and early October, Mr Newman said he was conscious not to seed the wheat, oats and barley too early.

“My aim is to plant the oats by May 10, move on to the barley and then start the wheat after May 20,” he said.

“It’s a frost tactic as much as a finishing tactic,” he said.

He said frosts in 2015 had wiped almost a tonne off the wheat crop.

“Also, our Scope barley crop looked like it would go 5t/ha but it only went 1.8t/ha and the hectolitre weight was terrible,” he said.

“I think the frost issue for us last year was a lot about the variety choices we made, so I’m quite conscious of that heading into this year’s seeding program.”

The Newmans, who farm with their son Alex, Roger’s brother Simon, and fulltime workman Chris Atkins, say current wheat and barley prices were having an impact on the makeup of their seeding program this year.

“Normally, we grow one-third canola, one-third wheat and the rest is made up of oats for grain and hay plus some barley, but because the oat price is so strong, and the wheat price is relatively weak, we’ve tended to change that around to growing a third canola and a third oats, with the balance made up of barley and wheat,” Mr Newman said.

The business will plant 300-ha of dual-purpose Carrolup oats in the hope it can be cut for hay.

“If we have a dry spring then we will be in a position to cut it for hay, which I would prefer as we’ve made the commitment to grow it, sowing it heavy,” he said.

“While hay is so labour-intensive, its also a very profitable crop for us, so its worth the time investment.

“However if it’s raining when we should be cutting hay, there is every chance we will allow it to fill as a grain crop. There is no need to pursue it as a hay option when it could make grain weight.”

The Newmans will also plant 2000ha of the newly released varieties of Bannister and Williams oats, plus 200ha of Latrobe barley and 300ha of Fathom barley.

But Mr Newman believes modern varieties combined with changing seasonal conditions make it difficult for farms in the area to achieve malt grade barley.

“These days, its just part of the rotational mix,” he said

“We have a hard time growing malt barley here, we used to be malt growers with some feed, but now we are feed growers with some malt.

“Our focus this year is definitely on canola and oats.”

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