Diversity in crops, markets helps extract value from land

Diversity in crops, markets helps extract value from land


Cropping
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IN THE seven years since they moved from the Mid North to the Upper South East, brothers Michael and James Eckert, Bolinda, Mundulla, say one of the biggest changes in the region has been land prices.

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IN THE seven years since they moved from the Mid North to the Upper South East, brothers Michael and James Eckert, Bolinda, Mundulla, say one of the biggest changes in the region has been land prices.

With the value of their land "theoretically doubling" in that time, Michael says they feel pressure to make sure they get the best results from their land.

They operate on more than 3000 hectares - a mix of leased and owned land - across eight properties within a 50-kilometre radius of Mundulla, with cropping the major focus.

About a third of their cropping operation is under irrigation, both flood and pivot, while they run 1400 ewes.

Michael said they kept their system "simple and basic", while making the most of their region's potential for diversity.

They grow hay for the domestic and export markets, cereals - including wheat and feed barley - beans and canola. In summer, they also make use of their irrigation to grow seed crops, such as lucerne and Persian clover.

Michael said they tended to keep their rotation consistent each year.

"We're pretty well committed to do a certain acreage of everything each year, as we've already got markets in place," he said.

But they do occasionally try something new when the opportunity comes up, as was the case with the contract for Persian clover, which they began three years ago.

For the past few years they have grown lentils but this year decided to return their focus to faba beans.

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"Lentils do grow well here but there are other crops that are more profitable with less risk," he said.

Irrigation assisted their goal to reduce risk.

They often irrigate their winter crops, including winter wheat, which usually yields between 8 tonnes/ha to 10t/ha, while last season's beans reached 6t/ha under flood irrigation.

"We can grow really good (canola) crops, yield-wise, and under irrigation, it's fantastic," Michael said.

"Agronomically, it fits into the system to have a legume, and it serves as a break crop or clean up crop."

James said their irrigation ensured they had a crop.

"We are guaranteed production to a certain amount," he said.

The diversity in their soil types - from sandy loam to black soil - also mitigates risk.

"We have some country that can get too wet and some has good draining, and the flip side is in dry years the light country peaks out and the heavy country holds on," Michael said.

A lot of livestock is on feed in this area - piggeries, dairies, feedlots. You're better off holding onto (grain) and selling later. - MICHAEL WECKERT

Alongside their diverse cropping operation, the Weckerts seek diversity in their marketing program.

Originally based in the Mid North, they sell their export hay to Kapunda but their Upper South East location also brings options.

They could sell across the border in Vic to GrainCorp, Viterra, Pilgrims Grain Storage or to any of the local farmers seeking grain.

Last season they used silo bags for their feed grain.

"A lot of livestock is on feed in this area - piggeries, dairies, feedlots," Michael said. "You're better off holding onto it and selling later."

They have also found success in "quick turnaround cash crops" during summer, such as Persian clover, grown under irrigation.

"Contracts come available that sometimes we can take advantage of," he said.

The Weckerts are conscientious about maintaining up-to-date machinery.

They have a schedule to replace two or three items each year.

"If you don't, it catches up," James said.

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