Farming: Professional, Precise and Proud

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.

Yield map

Yield data

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.

Prescription map
Prescription data

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.

Silos on farm
Not only are we attempting to determine the yield, and grade of our crops, we now segregate our production and maximize our returns.

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.


The season ahead

In today’s farming systems farmers have so much technology available to them. Yield maps tell us exactly what was harvested where. Moisture probes tell us available soil moisture leading into a season. Deep nitrate testing tells us how much nitrogen is available and we can work out how much more we will need to add to grow a target yield…based on stored water and in crop rainfall.
When everything is taken into account, including appetite for risk, we can write ourselves a “recipe” and target a yield. Todays seeding equipment (via gps) is able to deposit exactly the amount of fertilizer we want where we want it.
There’s a BUT to our recipe though-there are no guarantees! It’s about probabilities and possibilities.
Like 2011, this year begins with above average levels of stored water but potentially higher levels of deep nitrate. That means reduced costs to grow higher yields-the soil has and is mineralizing nitrogen following generous rains last week. Over 40mm across my property.
This year again begins with a degree of optimism. Both 2010 and 2011 have been kind to this mallee farmer. The optimism is tempered by this one thought in the mallee – we rarely go back to back to back!
With the end game in mind let us begin the emotional roller coaster that is farming in the mallee


So let the journey begin

And so it is, I have joined the world of Blogging.

As a passionate believer in the future of production agriculture I would like to share my journey through work and life. With the fear of sounding boring at times this blog is designed to bring you the everyday activities of a dryland farmer from country SA – Pinnaroo to be precise. There will be droughts, and there will be boom years but over time we have “average” seasons. I would like you to ride the highs and lows with me, and together we will meld it into an “average” day on an “average” farm… BS, just farming life as seen through Corey’s eyes.