PRECISION agriculture helped 2012 Farmer of the Year Peter Kuhlmann make the most of his marginal country on the west coast of Eyre Peninsula.
He was guest speaker at the recent SPAA-Precision Agri-culture Australia expo, and in his first official presentation since the big win, said he farmed in an area where annual rainfall was usually under 300 millimetres with of growing-season rainfall only 216mm average.
Peter describes the grey calcareous sandy loam "good ... when it's wet".
"Unfortunately, the soil is also very good for rhizoctonia and the best pH range – 8.5 – for tying-up phosphorus," he said.
Peter farms at Mudabie Pty Ltd, Mudamuckla, 40 kilometres east of Ceduna. The operation covers 9603 hectares, of which 8560ha is arable.
Between 75 per cent and 80pc of the land is dedicated to cropping.
The farm runs 1300 Merinos, mated to either Merinos or White Suffolks.
Cropping in the 2012 season consisted of 5520ha of wheat, 736ha of barley, and 261ha of juncea canola while yields stood at 0.99 tonnes/ha for wheat and 1t/ha for barley.
"Evaporation drives the system a fair bit," Peter said.
"Our biggest rain event for the whole of last year was 10.5mm. The challenge is how to handle conditions like that."
Peter's family recently marked more than 100 years of farming at Mudamuckla, and he feels lucky his forebears had built-up equity in the farm.
Early seeding has been a key factor that has kept the operation viable.
"With our seeding rig, we really have to push it," Peter said.
A Seedhawk 60' dual hydraulic tyne with a 12,000-litre liquid system tank and a Seedhawk (three-box) 17,000L dual-shoot airseeder with hydraulic drives is used for seeding.
"I pretty well start sowing dry and, hopefully, I'm getting some of the crop in at the right time," Peter said.
Mudabie has a large area to cover at seeding time.
"It is the same area covered if I started seeding in Sydney and ended up driving to Perth," Peter said.
He said working in an area where the farm could struggle to hold its own even in average years meant every dollar counted.
"My costs are the same as those of other farmers in other areas," Peter said.
"I've still got the same weed control, fuel and equipment costs. Trying to make a dollar out of that is pretty challenging."
His direct costs of putting a crop in amount to $156/ha, or 0.6t/ha and farming in these conditions makes him risk-averse.
Peter has seen many changes in farm practices over the years.
"When I came home from school we were still burning grass every year and used tillage as a means of weed control," he said.
"In the older days we didn't conserve summer rainfall at all.
"I moved into conservation farming and chemical weed control."
On-farm improvements, including stubble retention, no-till, wider row spacing, and summer weed control, all relate to water management and making the most of low rainfall.
Full report in Stock Journal, February 28 issue, 2013.