WITH a poor forecast for the end of this season, the Williams family at Auburn decided to increase their options to cut their losses.
Sixth-generation farmer Scott Williams, with brother Ashley and parents John and Helen Williams, crop 1800 hectares at Auburn and Hoyleton, with some leased land at Salter Springs.
They also run 2800 Merino ewes and a 16ha vineyard.
This year the cropping program is mainly Scepter wheat and Spartacus barley, with some canola, Hurricane lentils, beans and oaten hay.
Scott said the lack of confidence in the season and good hay prices inspired them to double the area sown to Brusher oats from 250ha to 500ha.
"If the season ends up dry, then hay will be a more profitable crop than wheat, barley or canola that doesn't finish properly," he said.
The Williams family have been exporting hay for nearly 20 years.
They cut using a Macdon self-propelled windrower and Agland mascerator, pick it up with a Krone high-density 8-string baler and cart all their own hay, plus some contract work as well.
Last year, poor hay production was offset by high hay prices.
This year, despite the lure of high domestic prices, they will still contract the majority of their hay for export to Balco and Johnson's. About 30ha will be kept for seed.
"Domestically, the market is fine when there's not much hay about, but we like the reliability of export," Scott said.
"It is also a handy weed control tool, particularly for ryegrass."
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The flock are also generally run on the stubbles after harvest, but last year, with the high value of straw, it was baled.
"We don't like doing that, but it was too good a price to pass up," Scott said.
He says some paddocks are also sown to oats and vetch for sheep feed.
Another call made this season, with weed management in mind, was to put in 15ha of PBA Bendoc faba beans to bulk up for seed.
"We used to grow beans in the past, but then prices dropped away and we had real struggles with weeds, particularly radish," Scott said.
"So we grew more lentils. But then lentils fell out of favour, particularly price-wise, so we've gone back to beans as another legume option.
"Bendoc has a high tolerance to some Group B herbicides, so it will also increase weed control in-crop."
Seeding started dry in mid-April and they have had 250 millimetres of rain since May.
"The season has been going well, but we are definitely looking for rain in the next fortnight," Scott said.
Gradual process to refine Merinos
IN the past few years, the Williams family at Auburn have invested to integrate electronic identification into their flock.
They use Tru-Test weighing and eID equipment, such as stick and panel readers, and Sapien KoolCollect software for data collection.
"It has been a gradual progression over the past four years," Scott Williams said.
"By the end of this year, once we get rid of our old sheep, all of our flock will be eID tagged."
Scott says they are aiming to improve fertility, wool cut and staple length.
"We have tentatively classed on fleece weights and staple length," he said.
"But we are still learning the ropes with how it all works. Hopefully by next year we will have enough data to get more serious in how we draft the flock."
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