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Growers weigh high cost of inputs with new season promise

Each year GroundCover™ follows a group of growers from across Australia as they manage the cropping season. In this first instalment for 2022, Melissa Marino introduces this year’s participants.


Ben and Karli Findlay farm at Weatherboard, north-west of Ballarat at an elevation of 400 to 700 metres in an area subject to cool conditions, high rainfall and wind. They grow wheat, canola and faba beans and graze first-cross breeding ewes.

Average annual rainfall: 690mm

Farm size: 500ha

Professional advice: Charles Edmonston at BFB

Memberships: GRDC, Southern Farming Systems, Farming Ahead

Key changes: Refining timeliness – whether it’s sowing dates, fungicide application or harvest – has been a big deal. We’ve increased to four precise fungicide applications. We’ve researched nitrogen timing on wheat and canola to maximise yield and improve harvestability. In canola, we were applying nitrogen earlier and producing too much biomass, but now we’re better at getting more grain and less bulk.We’ve also changed plant density. We’ve gone from 70 to 80 canola plants per square metre down to 20 to 30 for massive improvement. Yields have increased with Pioneer Clearfield canola varieties, and, as part of the GRDC Hyper Yielding Cereals (HYC) initiative, Accroc wheat. The HYC has been very helpful and informative for wheat.

2022 goals: To implement variable-rate fertiliser properly across the property using a combination of harvest yield maps, EM38 (electromagnetic) soil mapping, normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) imagery and paddock history.

Challenges and opportunities: In our high-rainfall area, we have good yields but the inputs are massive, so the high price of fertiliser really hurts. Turning a profit with wheat will be a hell of a challenge – eight tonnes/ha might be our break-even yield. Nitrogen timing will be very important. We’ll aim high on canola to maximise yield, but with wheat we’ll be looking to make ends meet rather than targeting the moon.

R&D wishlist: Getting relevant information on optimal sowing dates, nitrogen timing and plant densities is a challenge. We’re a unique area; a British-born agronomist we work with calls it Little Britain. It’s quite similar to their climate, so our needs are very specific.

A proper tool to measure biomass at key growth stages in canola is definitely needed. There’s not really a way to measure it apart from walking in the paddock and estimating.

I would also like to see some work around frost management and mitigation, or tolerant varieties.

Issue 157, March-April 2022
Date published – 03 Mar 2022
Author – Melissa Marino

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