DEEP ripping is a key tactic this year in the Flavel family's plans as they attempt to give their crops access to previously unreachable subsoil moisture.
The Flavels farm 5000 hectares and run 1000 self-replacing Merinos at Browns Well in the northern Mallee.
In 2018, they cropped 4000ha of lupins, wheat, barley and vetch with about 800ha of sowing dedicated to sheep feed.
The Flavels hope deep ripping can increase yields in the face of increasingly dry growing seasons.
They recorded just 100 millimetres of rain for 2018 until the end of October - a worrying trend they have been monitoring for several years.
Despite this low rainfall, crops performed above expectations, with wheat and barley yielding about 0.8 tonnes a hectare.
But vetch sown for sheep feed failed to produce seed needed for replanting and 200ha of lupins were blown away in 90 kilometre an hour winds during July.
"In the past five years, reduced winter rainfall has been more and more noticeable and while 100mm of rain for the whole growing season is not much, we still managed to grow viable crops," Adam Flavel said.
"Weather events like the wind we experienced in July last year are heartbreaking to watch, but we know they're uncontrollable.
"Instead of dwelling on this we are working on what we can control in the paddock and with our crop choices."
We recognise how important it is to give, what we can, back to our soil to counteract what is lacking.
The drier seasons have forced the Flavels to lift their efforts to replace soil nutrients, preserve precious summer moisture and try new practices.
They work closely with their agronomist to make decisions, particularly around their fertiliser and other inputs.
"We recognise how important it is to give, what we can, back to our soil to counteract what is lacking and increase nutrient availability at key times during the season," Adam said.
In 2018, Adam, his brother Patrick and father John, who farm with their wives Alison, Emma and Karen, tested strips of deep ripping to reach below an impenetrable hard pan 30 centimetres below the sandy upper layer.
"Our red sand has a hard pan layer that the cereal roots can't get through," Adam said.
"I didn't really believe it until our agronomist showed me in 2017. He says the plants looked root-bound when examined."
Wheat yields in the test strips jumped from 0.6t/ha to 2t/ha.
Adam said this response was beyond expectations and he subsequently ordered his own machinery to make deep ripping part of their program.
"This was a massive response, particularly in a year like 2018, but even if it only increases 0.2t/ha where I've ripped, it will pay for the machine every year," he said.
PRIORITY PUT ON FARM ADAPTION
THE Flavel family's 2019 cropping program at Browns Well remains similar to last year, but will include efforts to begin progressively deep ripping the entire property across the next few years, while maintaining a stringent weed management program.
Adam Flavel says deep ripping will add to their summer workload, alongside shearing, but maintains the importance of adapting.
He expects rainfall to remain scarce and increasingly skewed to out of the growing season, which makes summer moisture preservation a priority.
"We plan a full coverage of spraying usually after Christmas once we have some rain and then we spot spray until seeding," he said. "Sheep will graze summer weeds and remaining stubble to reduce subsoil moisture being drawn on. But where we are, we also need to maintain some groundcover to prevent erosion."
Mr Flavel says a mixture of soil test results and yield mapping from 2018 will guide their nutrient decisions, which will focus on applying phosphorous at replacement levels and increasing the area sown to barley to try and avoid losses to frost.
"We're expecting to run into some frost issues again as we seem to get a lot of stem frost here," he said.
"I always test about 300ha of pulse crop depending on what seed is on hand to try and snag a good outcome, particularly if prices are good that year, and there will also be some sheep feed."
- This story first appeared in GRDC's Groundcover