DESPITE a “terrible” start to the cropping season, brothers Brenton and Rodney Maynard, Lameroo, say the influence of improved cropping techniques and management practices is evident.
They normally grow wheat, barley, lupins, vetch and a pulse variety, and have kept to their usual rotation, albeit with some extra vetch to replace the lupins.
They started sowing sheep feed on April 15 and kept going with cereals through May.
Brenton said about one-third of the crop was sown dry, with about 15 millimetres of rain needed to sow the lentils.
“We had 22mm in May and virtually sowed everything on that,” he said. “About 95 per cent has come up – I’m surprised how well it has germinated on that.”
They estimate they are about three or four weeks behind in crop advancement and feed than their average for this time of year.
The region had some rain in the past two weeks but that will be used quickly.
“Every millimetre has been important,” Rodney said. “We will need a kind spring.”
Brenton said the crops had surprising bulk.
“Farming practices have improved – that’s got a lot to do with it,” Rodney said.
They have been direct drilling for 25 years and spray during summer to conserve moisture.
They have also learnt to be firm on their starting time.
“We start cereals virtually from May on, which is way earlier than what we used to – probably three weeks earlier,” Brenton said. “Frost is always an issue but we pick our paddocks with the rotations.”
He said they generally used the frost-prone paddocks for growing hay crops or for sheep feed.
They believe rotations are important to crop quality, including always having a pulse variety.
“They’re doing the soil so much good,” Brenton said.
“We can see the difference with pulses in the rotation.”
He estimates one-third of the 2630-hectare cropping program is pulses or break crops.
“We see with our pasture country that had nothing on it last year, it is so far behind the wheat (following) a vetch,” Brenton said.
This is the second year they have tried lentils and he plans to include chickpeas for the first time next season.
They also use barley to help manage brome grass.
The other hero of their cropping rotation is vetch.
While they sow it for hay production and sheep feed, Brenton says it is also critical for their wheat production.
“Vetch is king here – it is so consistent and in the worse case scenario we can (put) sheep on it,” he said.
“At times this year we thought we would have to do that but we have gotten through and the hay will be worth something.
“Vetch is so good for our country that even if we didn’t get the yields, we get the benefit the year after and it helps control grasses.”
LIVESTOCK PROVIDE CROPPING BALANCE
BRENTON and Rodney Maynard, Lameroo, have previously considered removing sheep from their farm and concentrating on cropping.
“We were so close to going all out of sheep – I’m so glad we kept going,” Brenton said.
“It’s just a good balance on this country.”
They run about 1000 Merino breeders on Nyowee bloodlines, selling wether lambs and averaging 21 micron across the clip.
For the past five years they have been shearing every six months, after initially switching to an eight-month shearing schedule.
Brenton said having sheep enabled them to make the most of some of their “poorer” country.
Sheep also work as another break crop option in their rotation.
“We sow feed and treat it like a crop and it’s good in the rotation for growing wheat the year after,” he said.
This year has been one of the toughest years for running sheep, despite the good returns for meat and wool.
“We have been feeding sheep since April,” Rodney said.
“This is one of longest periods we’ve had to feed.
“We sowed feed and it didn’t get going – the frost kept things at a standstill.”
Brenton said they generally tried to keep about two years’ worth of hay in store and have sown a little extra this season.
“We’re just about at our lowest supplies,” he said.
“Probably this (week’s) rain will guarantee us a hay cut.”