IT HAS been a difficult growing season for the Roberts family, Cleve, but they are still hopeful about the final result.
The family-run business, with brothers Grant and Steven, and their wives Erin and Natalie, encompasses about 4000 hectares, with about 2500ha used in their cropping program.
Grant said this season had its challenges, mostly driven by a lack of rain.
Despite a dry start to the sowing season, Grant said they had predominantly stayed with their usual rotation, albeit with some reduced inputs, including liquid fertiliser.
Their property stretches from north of Cleve through to near Darke Peak, with a wide range of soil types, which take some managing.
“We’ve got sandy soils, red clay, loamy – we’ve got everything,” Grant said.
They were able to dry-sow most of their land but had to stop once they came to their sandy soils and wait for rain.
This “stop-start seeding” resulted in a delayed finish.
“We would normally finish (seeding) before the June long weekend but for the past two years, we’ve finished in July,” Grant said.
“Last year was definitely dry but it wasn’t as tricky as this year. We waited for rain – it had to happen eventually.”
The Roberts’ usual rotation involves a clover or vetch, followed by two seasons of cereal crops, such as barley or wheat. They have sown Trojan and Scepter wheat and Scope and Spartan barley. Grant said they generally only grew Stingray canola on the home block, saying it worked in the rotation there due to the soil type and generally higher rainfall.
He said the crops had been a “mixed bag” for germination.
“We normally don’t have a problem getting a crop up on this farm – normally the issue is that it’s too wet – but this year some (crops) just never did,” he said.
Despite that, rain of up to 70 millimetres in parts of the property during August helped boost prospects.
“The yield is still too hard to call,” Grant said. “If we got a kind September, who knows? If we can average 1.5 tonnes across the lot, it would be good, but I’m hoping for more.”
LIVESTOCK BRINGS AGRONOMIC BOOST FOR CLEVE SET-UP
A FIRST-cross lamb operation provides a good balance to the cropping system for Grant and Steven Roberts, Cleve.
They run about 11,000 Merino ewes, mated to Uralba White Suffolk rams, to target the sucker lamb market.
The sheep slot into their cropping rotation with them sowing vetch or clover between cereal every three years.
Grant said the vetch was grazed by the sheep but also served a double purpose by providing agronomic benefits.
"It helps control weeds and puts natural nitrogen into the system,” he said.
Grant said they would sometimes sacrifice a crop for hay – last season they cut wheat that had some ryegrass issues. This season they might bale canola or vetch.
Grant said they had a heavy hay requirement this season, with little feed about.
“(The lambs) are not growing as fast as we’d like, due to the feed shortage,” he said.
Grant said they had already culled about 2000 of their older ewes to lighten the feed burden.
The Roberts sell their ewes to Woolworths or Thomas Foods International, through Elders Cleve agent Ben Noble.
In order to replace their ewes, the Robertses buy in Merino ewes as 1.5-year-olds at the Cleve market.
Grant said despite the tough season for feed and growing crops, they did welcome the rising prices for grain and livestock.