MANY Lower South East croppers are achieving yields they could only have dreamed of a few years ago, but a GRDC awards program could push these yields even higher.
Last month, James Fitzgerald won the SA region category in the inaugural year of the Hyper Yielding Crops award with a 10.59-tonne a hectare Accroc wheat crop grown at his Clay Wells property.
The same crop also collected the award for the highest percentage of potential yield.
This was calculated at 10.67t/ha based on the 511 millimetres of growing season rainfall.
While trial sites are extremely important for information like timing of fungicide and fertilisers, I think farmers still like to see the things learnt and implement them on a broadacre scale.- James Fitzgerald
Mr Fitzgerald said he did not participate in the competition to win but for the knowledge sharing among the entrants.
"All four of us in our group did separate trials on four different things so there are four years of trials right there in the one year," he said.
"While trial sites are extremely important for information like timing of fungicide and fertilisers, I think farmers still like to see the things learnt and implement them on a broadacre scale."
He attributed the win in his 44-hectare bin busting crop, which was sown in mid-May and harvested on January 11, to a "bit of luck" and a good season with early opening rains, a dry winter and mild spring.
In some years waterlogging leads to uneven yields across SE paddocks and makes it hard to get on paddocks in winter, but last season Mr Fitzgerald said this was not a problem.
Thus there was no delays in getting fertiliser, insecticides and fungicides out at key growth stages.
He also acknowledged the agronomy assistance which which was provided by Nutrien Ag Solutions former agronomist Emilie Gilbertson and more recently Matt Haase from Millicent to his success.
The winning wheat crop was direct drilled into a grazed broad bean stubble, which had been sprayed with a knockdown herbicide.
It was sown at 107 kilograms/ha on 178mm wide row spacings.
Twenty kg/ha of phosphorus was applied at sowing and 105kg/ha of nitrogen was fed to the crop (at sowing and in crop throughout the season).
Multiple foliar sprays of copper, zinc and manganese were also applied and an insecticide was applied to protect against aphids, the vector for Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus.
In early August, the crop was grazed for a fortnight with ewes and lambs from early tillering to growth stage 29 as a canopy management tool.
"It was the first time I have grazed (crops) so I was a little bit nervous but, seeing a couple of other trials, I could have gone a lot harder," he said.
"There was a lot of rain coming so I pulled them off, otherwise I may have left them on the crop for another five days or a week."
He still applied a plant growth regulator on August 31 to reduce lodging.
During the season there were three fungicide applications made, which Mr Fitzgerald described as "peace of mind" rather than having to constantly monitor the crop for diseases.
Harvesting the crop was a slow process due to it being 25.44t/ha of dry matter but Mr Fitzgerald said it was enjoyable to watch the yield monitor in the header.
"All the times I went out on the weekend and sprayed or spread urea was worth it on the timing side of things - timing is everything," he said.
The grain sample also had a great test weight of 80.8kg per hectolitre with 11 per cent protein and only 0.5pc screenings.
Hyper Yielding Crops project officer Jen Lillecrapp, who took regular samples in the 10 paddocks in the SA awards, praised Mr Fitzgerald's proactive approach to disease management and timeliness of inputs.
She said that a favourable season, timely crop inputs and attention to detail were key to his win.
All of the paddocks in the top 25pc of the awards had three fungicides - not two - which extended disease protection and green leaf area late in the season and through the ripening period .
"The difference you could see in a trial paddock was stark," she said. "The untreated strip in the crop had gone black yet the area treated with a third fungicide remained green and then golden through until harvest."
Mrs Lillecrapp says the Hyper Yielding Awards aim to recognise high achievers and those crops that were reaching their potential but more importantly collecting data to enable growers to benchmark themselves and identify opportunities to increase yields.
"We can learn a lot from paddocks like Fitzys - what was it about the paddock, agronomic strategies to grow that crop, how he set it up and the characteristics which allows us to understand the the main drivers of that yield," she said.
"Most of the growers have said after reading the report this allowed them to identify areas for improvement and make change."
She says the awards, which are being held for three years across five states, are aiming to push the economically attainable yield boundaries.
"We used to think 6-7t/ha in this area was a good crop and 10t/ha was an aspirational target but we now have varieties and agronomic packages which are better adapted to this environment," she said.
"This has enabled growers to produce 10t/ha wheat crops and realise the potential of high rainfall cropping."
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