Seasonal uncertainty prompts rotation rethink

SA graingrowers likely to alter crop rotations


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SA agronomists believe high-risk commodities are likely to be dropped by growers this season and replaced with hay and barley crops, if dry conditions continue across the state.

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MAKING CHANGES: Zoe and Scott Starkey, Sanderston, are re-examining their cropping rotation for this season because of a lack of rain.

MAKING CHANGES: Zoe and Scott Starkey, Sanderston, are re-examining their cropping rotation for this season because of a lack of rain.

SA agronomists believe high-risk commodities are likely to be dropped by growers this season and replaced with hay and barley crops, if dry conditions continue across the state.

Lower North and Mid North agronomist Craig Davis said because of the prolonged dry conditions, growers needed to reconsider sowing canola and legumes. 

"Canola is the main crop that will be dropped, as well as beans, and area sown to lentils would continue to reduce," he said.

"Low stubble cover will turn growers away from sowing legumes in the lower rainfall zones because of soil erosion.

"Legume crops do not leave a lot of cover behind and after the dust storms across the state last week, soil erosion is already significant." 

A question mark surrounds canola and legume crops for Riverland growers too, according to Elders Loxton Brian Lynch.

"Growers will return to a 'back-to-basics' barley and wheat rotation," he said.

"Some growers will fallow more hectares and let paddocks sit.

"Most growers will begin sowing on Anzac Day, but they will stop pretty quickly and wait for a rain." 

DUST STORM: Karoonda.

DUST STORM: Karoonda.

Cox Rural Keith's Scott Hutchings expected to see an upward trend in local faba bean crop area and a downward trend in canola production. 

"Canola is prone to frost and it does not have the option to be converted to hay," he said. 

Mr Hutchings said there would not be a drop in hectares sown for cropping in the Upper South East, but the end purpose would change. 

AW Vater & Co agronomist Zack Zweck, Kadina, said most Yorke Peninsula growers would sow shorter-season legumes, such as peas, and remove canola from the rotation.

"Larger operations will start sowing in the next seven days," he said. 

"It will be about sowing the safer bet this season and mitigating risk."

Carr's Seeds agronomist Denis Pedler, Cummins, said there had been increased interest from growers about sowing faba beans.

"Beans performed really well on the Lower Eyre Peninsula last year," he said.

"Sowing should start Anzac Day because early-sown crops have performed better at the end of the season.

"Upper EP growers will reduce area sown for crops."

'Safer' crops to replace canola

SANDERSTON croppers Zoe and Scott Starkey have decided to drop up to 300 hectares of cropping for fallow this year if substantial rainfall does not arrive by mid-May.

The Starkey family are expected to begin dry seeding their 2000ha cropping program on Anzac Day, but Ms Starkey said canola would be the first commodity to be substituted with hay, wheat or barley if "non-existent soil moisture levels remained".

"We dropped about 100ha of canola out of the rotation last year because it is just too expensive and it's a high-maintenance crop compared to other safer commodities," she said.

"There is too much risk of it not getting that profit margin.

"We should crop 200ha of canola this year, but if push comes to shove, we will be substituting those crops with Clearfield barley."

The Starkeys also run about 1100 Merino ewes.

"We have a few paddocks that have a medic seedbank that we will also let grow for grazing," Ms Starkey said.

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