FACING possibly another dry growing season, the Starkey family place high importance on keeping weeds to a minimum to conserve any rain received, however small.
Scott and Zoe Starkey, with Scott's parents Tim and Jo, crop 1800 hectares at Sanderston, and have 400ha of unarable hills to graze their 1100-head Merino flock.
Last year the property had 132 millimetres of rain from May to September, but reasonable wheat - averaging 1.2 tonnes/ha - and barley - 1.3t/ha - crops were still achieved.
"We were luckier than most on yield, but it was still below average," Zoe said.
She put some of this down to "spray fanatic" Tim, who is very diligent on the sprayer.
"But the 'spray man' was on holidays this summer because of the lack of rain," she said.
The no-till cropping rotation focuses on spraying out grasses across three years.
"On problem paddocks, the cycle starts with a vetch for grazing or hay, then canola, then a Clearfield wheat, and then back onto a normal wheat depending on rainfall and residues," Zoe said.
Crops are inter-row sown, to increase crop competition, and they sow east-west, creating more shadows for the weeds to struggle in.
At harvest, a chaff cart is also used to catch weed seeds.
This year, they plan to sow Scepter and Clearfield Razor wheat (40 per cent of the program), Compass and CL Spartacus barley (30pc) and canola (11pc), with the rest of the area sown to hay and/or medic pasture.
It will be the first commercial-scale sow for Razor (replacing Mace), after growing the crop for seed in 2018.
It (a new CropScan 3000H grain analyser) also takes the guesswork our of where out grain should be going or making.
This harvest will also be the second time the Starkeys use a new CropScan 3000H grain analyser on their header.
The analyser measures oil, protein and moisture levels of the crop when harvested.
"Not only do we yield map using the technology, but we can also identify high-protein areas in the paddock, and manage future fertiliser applications accordingly.
"It also takes the guesswork our of where out grain should be going or making."
The Starkeys have about 2500t of storage on-farm.
"The analyser is handy if we want to fill a silo with a certain quality grain," Zoe said.
"We still get samples through Viterra, and it has been pleasing that the levels are on par with what is measured on-farm."
Decisions to come after minimal rain
LIKE most areas of the state, the Starkey family are also amid one of the worst starts to the season on record at Sanderston.
They only received 7.5mm in the first week of May and 6mm in January.
But Tuesday's rain this week of 6.5mm, plus more on Thursday, did bring some positivity for the sheep feed sown last week.
"This will still be the driest start on record for us," fifth-generation farmer Scott Starkey said.
"After the vetch, we may need to reconsider whether we keep going."
If there isn't more substantial rain this month, canola could also be dropped from the rotation.
This is despite local Murray Plains Farming Group trials finding canola had the best gross margin in 2018 of $25 a hectare.
"Vetch was $10/ha, but there wasn't really a market for vetch seed," MPFG founding committee member Zoe Starkey said.
"No hay profit margin was done on the vetch either, but will be something we consider doing this year.
"Ongoing environmental benefits also haven't been measured - canola doesn't fix nitrogen like vetch can."
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