Rain sparks a chain reaction

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

With more than 150mm of rain for the summer, Narembeen farmer Byron Lynch is taking a novel approach to weed management this summer.

The young farmer normally uses a Kelly chain at the start of April, primarily to mulch stubbles, but this is the first season he's done it this early in order to kill off summer weeds.

Byron, who farms with wife Renee, is heading into his fifth cropping season at Narembeen, after making the move from the family farm at Grass Patch.

He said farming further north had presented new challenges, particularly when his first three seasons at Narembeen proved to be disappointing.

In Byron's first year in Narembeen, in 2008, frost severely damaged crops. That was followed by another poor year in 2009 and the worst drought on record in 2010.

"The years we've had have been very testing," Byron said.

"It's been a learning curve, there are different weeds and it's definitely different without the summer rains we're used to in Esperance."

This summer might have seen unseasonable rain in Narembeen, but summer rainfall is something the former south coast farmer is familiar with.

"We've been (Kelly chaining) for a number of years in Esperance," Byron said.

"At Grass Patch in the past we've used an offset disc plough down there with the summer rains, but for more efficiency and less digging we moved over to the Kelly chain three years ago."

The summer rain means Byron has wireweed, melons and other weeds germinating and he said the Kelly chain proved to be a cost-effective way to tackle those. "It's cheaper for us having the machine," he said.

"A lot of blokes are spending anywhere from $10 to 12 a hectare on chemicals doing that.

"With the machine it's just the cost of fuel and wear and tear - it's only about $3 to $4 a hectare as opposed to $10 to $12.

"It's just to work the paddocks and the stubble, get rid of the trash and put it back into the soil, so hopefully it breaks down and produces nitrogen."

Byron has already completed 2500ha with the Kelly chain, but hopes to complete a total of 3100ha.

In early April he will make another pass with the machine and apply Treflan, but in the meantime the Kelly chain is beginning to catch on.

"A few guys (around Narembeen) have looked into it and are going to borrow it this year, just to get rid of melons," Byron said.

"It's quite efficient and this time of year it nearly beats spraying it, especially when you can't spray during the day but you get over 400ha a day done pretty easily with the chain.

"The germination, when you do get the rains, is quite substantial.

"On a general no-till system a lot of blokes are finding they're getting a lot of weeds germinating because the chemicals don't quite work and there's a lot of weed seeds left to germinate once they've disturbed the soil at seeding time.

"But (with the chain) if you get the early rains, it allows you to get a good kill and knockdown pre-seeding."

Byron and Renee run a continuous cropping operation and for the first time on their Narembeen property they are planning to sow 400ha of canola.

Byron believes it is the first time the property will have produced a canola crop.

Strong prices and subsoil moisture has helped to spur the decision, but it was weed control that proved the decisive factor in growing canola.

"Being continuous cropping, you've got to break it somewhere in the system for weed control," Byron said.

"Not having fantastic results in the past with peas in terms of profit, we're trying the canola.

"On this particular country I've got I need to look at a different tool and canola is my best option at the moment."

Barley plantings are also increasing this season from 250ha to 700ha.

"It's not so much a price factor, but it's utilisation of soil types, just particular areas which don't seem to grow wheat as well as they grow barley," Byron said.

"It's more sodium to salt country and I've got a salt creek that runs through the property."

As for the rest of the season, Byron is hoping for one more rain event to top up subsoil moisture before a decent break to the season.

"We're coming off a reasonable year with some subsoil moisture and looking forward to next season when we can hopefully go better again."

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