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High rainfall varieties impress

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Imagine growing an oat crop that towers over a Landcruiser ute or a wheat crop that can be grazed three times before harvesting a six-tonne crop.

This has been achieved on a Boyanup property where two varieties - Elgin oats and Revenue wheat - are being bulked up by Rob Bell and his father, Terry.

They are also licensed to distribute a promising barley variety from the eastern states, Westminster.

The business, Bell Pasture Seeds, has been a well kept secret for almost a decade but in the past three years demand for high rainfall zone varieties has skyrocketed.

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According to Rob, farmers are seeing improved growth rates of their livestock and better forage yields for longer seasons.

"There wasn't a lot of money around to spend on pasture or fertiliser but farmers are starting to see a return to grow more grass and carry more sheep or cattle, and this is one of the best places to start," he said.

The Bells dedicate 650 hectares of their farm to growing high rainfall zone pasture and forage seed, which is sold to regular clients or retailers, as well as growing cereals and canola.

In the seed business, they plant and harvest more than eight varieties of oats, four different clover species and some ryegrass varieties and forage crops.

They should be finished harvesting the clover next week after starting on grain in late November.

The tall-growing oat Elgin, suited for grazing and hay, is a late-season variety that stayed green until Christmas. The Bells re-selected it from an older forage variety and Rob said it grew 1.5m high.

With a wide leaf like corn, he said it was an impressive sight.

"To harvest, we use an SP swather, take an 18-foot cut - the smallest we can take - and jam it through a Case IH 2388 header," he said.

"We ring the poor thing's neck - it crawls along at 2 to 3km/h at best."

Demand for forage cereals has grown from 20 to 30t a year to 300 to 400t from farmers in the South West and for ryegrass, as far as Dandaragan, Dowerin and Kojonup.

"We are getting a lot of Wheatbelt inquiry for (tetraploid) ryegrass," Rob said.

But most excitement on the farm at present surrounds Revenue wheat, which was selected from the National Variety Trials (NVT) in the east.

Rob said once planted, the variety could be grazed three times and it would still yield 6t/ha at harvest.

"It's a massive plant with a lot of bulk and a big ugly head," he said. "It's twice as big, twice as fat and looks like it's on steroids."

Rob said Revenue was classed as feed but as new generations were developed, it could be classed as milling wheat.

Westminster, which was developed in the east, outperformed Gairdner, Buloke, Commander and Baudin in the NVT in Kojonup last year.

Rob said the high-quality barley was progressing through Barley Australia Malt Accreditation and had an excellent disease resistance.

With harvest just about wrapped up, the Bells have just started seed sales this week and will start seeding from April 1.

They are aiming to bring in more high rainfall zone varieties to WA.

Seed produced on their property will be graded at their precision grading plant, one of the newest in the State.

"We like to think it's a whole new world for high rainfall guys, so they have options other than just sheep and cattle," Rob said.

Varieties *

_Elgin oats: _

·Grow to 1.5 to 1.8 metres tall

·Large erect plant with a wide leaf

·Fast grazing

·Suits rainfall of 450mm plus

_Revenue wheat: _

·Grain and graze wheat

·Can yield up to 8 tonnes a hectare (NSW in 2011)

·Suited to high rainfall zones

·Sow early to maximise yield

without increased frost risk

_Westminster barley: _

·High yielding mid to late season

·Excellent disease resistance

·Similar maturity to Gairdner

·Suited to high rainfall zones

Source: Rob Bell/GrainSEARCH Source: Rob Bell/GrainSEARCH

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