Grain farming, today, is not about ploughing a paddock numerous times, waiting for a rain and then apply last year’s fertilizer rate and hope we get a crop. We have come a long way since the Mallee was first cropped at the beginning of the 20th century. In fact we have come a long way in the last 10 years. It was only 10 years ago we first tried one pass seeding.
Today every crop is sown on a single pass of the seeder. There is no “recreational tillage”. One of the few machines to make multiple passes is the boom spray. But please don’t fear, whether it is herbicides, fungicides or fertilizers, the grain produced today is totally safe from chemical residues. All grain delivered into the receival system is tested, or can be tested.
This year’s crop is planned well ahead; usually our rotations are set 2-3 years in advance. The Mallee is marginal country, break crops are usually money back on average. For us we are adopting a low risk rotation. Simply put, it is a legume to fix nitrogen and allow us to control grass weeds, followed by two wheat crops.
The legume could either be a vetch crop or a field pea crop. Both enable us to control grasses, in crop, and result in the fixing on nitrogen (N). We will follow the legume with a wheat crop, and then follow that with another wheat crop. The low risk part of the rotation is the increased N levels in the soil and higher residual moisture dueto the peas/vetch being desiccated in early October. Natural N is far more effective as it is slow release. The increased nitrogen levels also means reduced input costs. The second wheat crop will require some added N.
Our input planning starts as we harvest the crop. Yield maps are taken for every paddock. The first picture is a yield map taken from this season’s (2011) harvest. Below it is the yield data provided through the John Deere software in my office. What is noticeable is the difference in yield between wheat off pea stubble (top of map) and canola stubble.
From this map we then use the office software to produce a prescription map for the application of fertilizer. Today our seed cart has variable rate technology (VRT). Via our satellite navigation systems the seed cart will place fertilizer at the rate we require and where we require it. There is no longer the need to over apply or under apply in a given area.
Inputs are too expensive to be using excesses of. As the season progresses we use objective measurement to determine in crop inputs. Deep N testing is conducted by my agronomist, to a depth of one metre. From this we calculate the amount of extra N required to grow a target yield. Yield is determined by available soil water content, paddock history and seasonal conditions.
The science is still progressing, but we are aiming to produce a target yield, with a target protein level to create the best gross margin. In time have little doubt we will refine the margins of error in this process.
In our business we have the ability to store our entire wheat crop in a given year. Part of our storagy strategy is to store wheat that is less than premium milling quality. Being in an export driven state there is little point in storing export quality milling wheats (determined by protein level). We now have the ability to test our wheat’s protein levels on farm.
Farming is now a true profession, where we use objective measurement to increase our productivity, and reduce our impact on the environment while bringing quality, healthy produce to Australia, and the World.