AFTER enduring heartbreaking crop losses from hail damage in the final stages of the 2016 cropping season, Alford grower Noel Rodda had a change of luck, after summer rains gave him a much-needed positive start to what would become an exceptionally dry year.
On 600 hectares Mr Rodda sowed wheat and barley in early May, as well as 256ha of Hurricane and Blitz lentil varieties, an increase compared with past seasons.
Mr Rodda said he was chasing the high returns on lentil crops this year so opted for more hectares of lentils rather than barley.
“We had almost 50 milimetres of rain in March so that set us up very well, especially with our summer spraying to keep the paddocks clean which is a must for lentil crops,” he said.
“Although we were able to get sowing on that rain, by the time we were finished it was almost too dry but we continued on.”
The dry seeding conditions exasperated mice numbers for Mr Rodda, with populations reaching heights he had never experienced before.
“The grain was just laying in the top soil instead of germinating because it was too dry,” he said.
“That then magnified a mice problem that we did not even realise was at such a bad stage already.
“In a 100 metre by 1m wide section, if you have two mice warrens you have 400 mice a hectare. We were counting up to 10 warrens in that same distance and would bait and it would literally do nothing and we couldn't work out why.”
Mice were baited at 1 kilogram/ha six times this season, first at seeding and most recently six weeks ago because of damaged wheat crops.
At least 10 per cent of this year’s crop has been affected by mice damage and with more than 120ha of wheat already resown, Mr Rodda said it had been a challenging year but he was still pleased with potential yields.
Russian wheat aphid activity also posed a threat to Mr Rodda’s season but forward thinking and applying a seed treatment saved this pest from inflicting any further damage.
“We were lucky with that this year and a seed treatment will be a part of our program every year from now on, but we have to be careful we do not run into resistance with it,” Mr Rodda said.
Recently desiccated lentil crops were affected by last week’s extreme weather, causing about a 20 per cent loss in yield, but wheat and barley were unaffected.
“Average tonnage for lentils is about 1.8t/ha but after the weather I think we are realistically looking at about 1.3t/ha,” he said.
After reaching about 3.8t/ha of wheat last season, Mr Rodda expects yields to be halved this year.
Rodda keeps finger on pulse evolution
GROWING lentils for 20 years has dealt Noel Rodda a few hard lessons to learn from but “it’s all worth it”, he says.
This time last year Mr Rodda lost 50 per cent of his lentil crop because of weather damage but the crop’s “fickleness” has not deterred him.
One of the initial growers in the region to take a punt on the high-value pulse, Mr Rodda said since his first crop was sown he has learned from his mistakes.
“We were growing peas but we phased them out because the dollars were just not there,” he said.
With farming systems and his spraying program in a constant state of improvement, Mr Rodda said the success rate of lentil crops had increased.
“The input cost on growing them has not really decreased but the biggest change has been in disease management. What used to write-off your crop can now be controlled a lot better,” he said.
“The different varieties that are available these days have also changed the chemicals we can use and how effective they are at managing pests and disease because you need to keep weeds out.”