Wheat out of favour

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

For the first time in almost 70 years, the Marshall farming business in East Pingelly will not be growing wheat.

Ray Marshall, who farms with brother Les and son Andrew, and Les's son-in-law Darren Baker, says this year, for the first time since his father took over the property in 1946, the numbers just didn't stack up.

"Maybe next year if wheat goes to $500/tonne," he said, jokingly.

"Seriously, in real terms wheat should be about $700-$800/tonne. But it's not, so we have to arrange our program accordingly."

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The Marshalls began seeding canola last Wednesday after receiving 35mm of rain throughout April.

"There is definitely moisture there, but we are seeding quite shallow because, from our experience, canola seems to be best sown dry," he said.

Mr Marshall said his numbers showed that an oat, barley and canola rotation, which includes export hay, was more profitable this season without the inclusion of wheat.

But the decision to leave wheat out of the 2015 cropping program isn't just about dollars and cents.

The Marshalls run an extensive sheep flock, which must be carefully managed in with the cropping rotations.

"We've always run sheep here, so we need to ensure we run an integrated and compatible mixed farming system," he said.

"By growing oats and barley we can also put the sheep in to graze the stubble and I believe oat and barley stubble is far more palatable and has a far superior nutritional value than wheat stubble.

"I'm not saying that we won't grow wheat again, but at this point in time, it seems to suit the management style of our business and I think that it allows for a certain level of simplicity," he said.

And with predicted lambing rates of over 120 per cent for the fourth year running, the Marshalls appear to have the system running well.

This year, the business will grow 2000ha of canola, oats and barley.

With the release of the new oat varieties Williams and Bannister, combined with La Trobe barley, Mr Marshall believes the time is right to diversify out of wheat.

"These latest oat and barley varieties are extremely good in regard to disease, yield and quality," he said.

The Marshalls also have to manage the challenge of frost.

"Yes we do have a problem with frost, and that's the other consideration," he said.

"In a really severe frost situation, anything you plant will get affected, but generally in our geographical situation, we are quite high up and most of our frosts are quite light, and there is more likely to be damage in wheat than oats and barley."

The Marshalls are also seed growers of Dalkeith clover, which is sold across farming areas throughout Australia.

Grown-on testing ensures authenticity, and seed sales are a significant part of the family business.

Seeding has begun on the property two weeks earlier than last year, but Mr Marshall doesn't believe he will see any significant change in the yield because of the early break.

_"Canola seems to have a pretty specific window of maturity so I really don't think it will make much difference in terms of yield potential in the long run. You can never judge," he said. _

"We really need another 10mm in the next 10 days or so, that would be nice, but irrespective of that, we'll keep going."

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