A combination of testing weather conditions and opportunistic thinking led Kelvin Tiller, Pinery, to cut his entire 2018 lentil crop for hay, and after reaping the benefits of his decision, he is considering dabbling in lentil hay production again this season.
Mr Tiller, who crops 2200 hectares of mainly wheat and lentils, with a small percentage of barley and oats for hay, initially cut his lentil paddock that had been worst affected by frost, which made up 230ha of his 850ha lentil crop.
"The crop wasn't going to produce any grain, so we tried cutting it in the hope of baling it," he said.
But after baling proved to be relatively "hassle-free", and yield was reasonable for the first area, Mr Tiller decided to cut the entire crop for hay. He did not need any specialised equipment.
"I've got a draper front for the harvester, but I can slide the decks off so I can windrow with that, and I put two rows into one, which made it a 22-metre windrow," he said.
The high prices, and knowing that we'd clear it, made it worthwhile.
"The hay wasn't conditioned, and we weren't sure how fast it would dry down so we could bale it, but it was dry enough to be baling within a week."
Mr Tiller used the Hayguard preservative on about 70 per cent of his lentils, but said the last 200ha was cut late, and had cured well, so Hayguard was not required.
Despite lentils being shorter than other crops more commonly cut for hay, Mr Tiller said there were "no dramas" when baling.
"It seemed to bale up well, but you have to be careful not to handle it too much. A few bales did fall apart, but if you bale up short straw it'll do the same thing, the bales sort of break a bit," he said.
Bales which contained a significant portion of wheat stubble from the previous year were between 650 kilograms and 700kg, but plenty of dense bales which did not have a high straw content were more than 800kg.
Mr Tiller averaged 1.8 tonnes/ha for his lentil hay, with the best area producing 2.3t/ha, compared with the district average for lentil grain being about 1.2t/ha. He received $325 per tonne for the hay.
"The high prices, and knowing that we'd clear it, made it worthwhile," he said.
"If hay prices were only $200/t we probably wouldn't have done anything."
It's probably just as good as vetch, and may be better than medic hay too.
While the lentil hay price was significantly lower than $1000/t if the crop had been grown for grain, Mr Tiller said if the season suggested a poor grain crop, he "wouldn't rule out" cutting his lentils for hay again this year.
"In three or four weeks we'll evaluate what moisture there is, and if there's minimal moisture and nothing on the forecast, we'll probably cut it for hay," he said.
"But our intention is to grow lentils for grain, that's still priority number one."
PRODUCT SELLS WELL DESPITE HESITATION
Pinery farmer Kelvin Tiller said lentil hay - which he baled for the first time last year - was a nutritious product, but was still met with some reluctance from potential buyers.
"There was a reasonable demand for it. If it was a vetch hay it would have walked out the gate, but just being lentil hay, there was a bit of hesitation," he said.
"It's probably just as good as vetch, and may be better than medic hay too."
His lentil hay had a metabolisable energy value of 9.8 megajoules per kilogram of dry matter, above the average lucerne ME of 9.5MJ/kg DM, according to feed values released by Dairy Australia.
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Mr Tiller ended up managing to sell all of his hay.
"Some went into a pellet mill, and the rest went to feedlots, dairy farms, and some was sent north to cattle stations," he said.
Mr Tiller said he had been slightly more conservative with chemical application this year, knowing that there was a possibility the crop would not be grown for grain.
"We still want to keep the crop clean but we're not going too hard just in case we cut it for hay. There's no point overspending," he said.
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