MODERN cropping and agronomic practices have ensured Peter Frahn is still growing quality crops between Younghusband and Mannum, despite a continuing stretch of well below average rainfall.
With 156 millimetres of rain this year and only 119mm in 2018 - compared with the region's average of 270-280mm - the Murraylands cropper could be forgiven for cursing the skies but he has remained optimistic and credited his decent crops to practices including carefully-planned rotations, conserving moisture from summer rainfall through summer weed spraying, full stubble retention and not running any livestock.
Mr Frahn said he turned to full stubble retention and no livestock about ten years ago, using an RTK GPS system for inter-row sowing.
"We have a lot of sand and were getting a lot of soil erosion so we started stubble retention to prevent that and I've been finding all of these other benefits as I've continued on with it," he said.
Benefits have included better subsoil moisture and nutrient retention, which has been a major boost for crop performance in dry years.
Also aiding crop performance in low-rainfall years has been a focus on summer weed spraying to ensure the weeds don't steal valuable moisture from the following crop.
"We've been diligent on summer weed spraying in the last few years and have seen good results in terms of moisture retention so I'm continuing with a strong approach to that," Mr Frahn said.
Mr Frahn has also reduced his nitrogen fertiliser bill through the inclusion of nitrogen-fixating pulses into the cropping rotation.
Of his 2400 hectares of cropping land, half consists of lentils, lupins, chickpeas, vetch and oaten hay, with the other half consisting of wheat and barley.
"In our paddocks we're rarely growing a cereal followed by a cereal," Mr Frahn said.
"It's always a cereal followed by a pulse crop.
"A typical rotation would be vetch hay followed by oaten hay, followed by lentils or chickpeas, followed by barley then followed by another pulse.
"The benefits we're seeing out of that rotation is the nitrogen build up from pulses, which benefits the growth of the following cereal crop."
Mr Frahn said he had also noticed healthier root structures and had been able to achieve more effective rhizoctonia control.
"Rhizoctonia is dropping right off," he said.
"We're also not chasing so many leaf diseases in our barley. They're still there but not blowing out and giving us a real hassle.
"Ten years ago our typical rotation was wheat, barley, canola, then wheat, barley, canola and we weren't getting on top of brome grass, plus buying in heaps of nitrogen."
PROMISING START TO 2019 HARVEST AT YOUNGHUSBAND
Initial hay and pulse yields have been pleasing for Murraylands cropper Peter Frahn, especially given the below average rainfall his land has received in the past two seasons.
Mr Frahn, who farms with wife Faye and their two daughters Jessica and Sarah, had been cutting 5.6 tonnes a hectare of oaten hay off early paddocks. The majority of the 130ha of oaten hay and 130ha of vetch hay is sold to local dairyfarmers for feed.
Another 940ha is made up of pulses - chickpeas, PBA Jumbo2 lentils and lupins - and Mr Frahn said he was happy with the early yields seen.
"This year, pulses are looking alright," he said.
"Lentils should go about 1t/ha, so I'm pretty happy about that. Lupins should yield from 0.8t/ha to 1t/ha. Chickpeas will yield at about 1t/ha too."
The 1200ha of barley and wheat is also expected to yield well, according to Mr Frahn.
Yields of 2.5-3t/ha are expected for their Spartacus and Planet barley.
Their Scepter wheat is expected to reach yields of 2.2t/ha.
Mr Frahn has had to alter his rotations to suit dry conditions, saying that canola had fallen out of the mix for the time being.
"We didn't sow any canola this year," he said.
"There was no rain in April and it was still looking dry at the beginning of May so we pulled the pin on the canola and went with barley instead."