As dry conditions continue to impact crop performance and returns, growing medic crops has offered the Weckert family at Brinkworth an effective option to provide a soil nitrogen boost for other crops and end-use flexibility.
Mixed-farmers Andrew Weckert and his son Tom have persisted with growing medic for more than 30 years because it has provided a low-risk legume crop option and lowered crop inputs.
The Weckerts utilise about 85 hectares of medic each season for seed production and as a grazing option for sheep, and in some seasons it is cut for hay.
This season, about 45ha of medic was dry-sown in mid-April and about 40ha self-rejuvenated from the previous season.
This year, a medic crop emerged on a paddock that had previously grown three grain crops.
Andrew said in recent years, demand for medic seed in drier regions across SA and interstate had increased.
"Seed has been sold around SA and into inland areas of NSW and Qld," he said.
"In tougher seasons, it can really help with returns in the cropping program because it is so versatile. If it is a difficult season there is always a use - so it works in well for mixed farms."
Andrew also said the return on medic seed had increased in the past few years to make it a viable crop to grow each year.
"The price has made steady increases and that has been necessary to offset the increased costs associated with harvesting for seed," he said.
"Although local market demand has fluctuated, with drier seasons occurring more often I think it could become more popular with growers."
Tom said medic crops offered a cost-effective nitrogen boost when compared with "riskier" legume crops.
He said because it replaced soil nitrogen as effectively as a grain legume, they saved on production costs.
"It is not just a low-risk crop to establish, the cost throughout the growing season is also low when compared with other legumes.
"At seeding time, no pre-emergent chemical is applied and neither are fungicides."
Tom said medic was sown in April, sprayed for grasses in June/July, grazed and then "left to grow".
"We do monitor for insects but we do not have to apply regular insecticide," he said.
Tom also said medic crops "cleaned paddocks for the following year" and lowered input costs throughout the rotation.
"Medic cleans out grasses and other weeds and each paddock has had medic on it at some stage, so its a widespread benefit," he said.
"Wheat or durum crops are usually grown following a medic crop and that has lowered nitrogen input costs."
Seed crop offers a range of end uses
MEDIC seed production and harvesting requires commitment and the correct machinery but it can be a successful component of a cropping enterprise, according to Brinkworth mixed-farmer Andrew Weckert.
Mr Weckert bought his first harvester about 35 years ago and operates two 50-year-old machines in tandem throughout harvest.
"But regular maintenance is required on these older machines to keep them operational," he said.
The harvester operates similar to a vacuum cleaner and sucks up the medic burr, thrashes it and removes the seeds.
Medic seed production is an important part of a mixed farming business because it can provide sheep feed, hay production and a seed crop to harvest, Andrew said.
He said this season's rejuvenated medic crop was "as thick as thick" and would be harvested for medic seed rather than being sown with wheat or barley.
"What probably stops some growers from giving medic crops a go, is if a medic crop is left to set seed in the first year, it will continue to rejuvenate itself for many seasons."