Farm Management

Major changes to crop program at Pilton

John and Michael Ryan

Darling Downs crop and cattle producers the Ryan family are making the biggest changes to their farm since adopting zero till in the early 2000s.

Michael, his wife Elissa, and parents John and Mary, recently implemented controlled traffic farming (CTF) at their Pilton Valley farm, complementing their uptake of variable rate (VR) seeding and imidazolinone-tolerant (IT) corn.

Fourth-generation farmer Michael Ryan said they were embracing select new technologies to improve soil productivity and respond to a changing climate.

“Zero till greatly improved the moisture-retaining properties of our paddocks, but we saw potential for more productivity increases and long-term savings.”

Mr Ryan said CTF was seen as a necessary move to fix soil compaction, and have gradually implemented it since the last summer crop season.

“In the current winter crop season we have moved to full CTF on 3m wheel tracks to minimise soil compaction, because it can really reduce yields.”

Additionally, he said using VR seeding was a more accurate way to seed across their dryland and irrigated paddocks, saving them money.

“A variable rate planter is good for using in our paddock irrigated by the centre pivot, because you can drop your planting rate right back to a dryland rate in any area.

“If you planted all areas at the same rate, the plant runs out of moisture due to the high population.

“We are saving a bag of seed over a 100 acre paddock because the planter puts on the exact population to what is desired. The planter also uses GPS or swath control so no seed is wasted with overlap in point rows or headlands that are already planted.”

The family started dairy farming in the area in the 1940s but are now producers of grain sorghum, corn, soybeans and mungbeans in summer and wheat, barley and chickpeas in winter.

They also buy weaners and store cattle to grow out and fatten on their licensed feedlot.

They have two Pilton properties, Alfred Park and Glenburnie, and share farm country with outside parties. Michael and Elissa also run their own place, Glentonvale.

One of their major upgrades to the cropping side of the business was the introduction of IT corn in the 2015-16 season.

Mr Ryan said one of their hybrids of choice, feed/grit corn PAC 727IT, was selected for weed control, grain quality and toughness.

“We grow it for the lightning herbicide aspect, because we can target in-crop weeds, but also because it produces good grain for the snack foods market.

“It also has one of the best disease and stress tolerance packages, which came in handy last season.”

Mr Ryan said their corn endured one of the hottest summers ever experienced in 2016-17.

“We could not have had a tougher summer. It was horrendous, as many farmers would know.

“On February 11 and 12 2017 we had over 43 degrees which cooked the crops and made them basically ripen overnight. February was just relentless with heat with very little rain which was definitely not an ideal scenario for corn tasselling.”

Their 20ha of dryland PAC 727IT averaged 5t/ha and their 24ha under irrigation averaged 9t/ha.

“The best part of the paddock under irrigation was yielding 12t/ha, so this was an excellent result for the harsh season.”

“The corn definitely handled the heat well and to get 5t/ha dryland, we were really happy with it.

“The fact it was zero till and had good winter rain and subsoil moisture, meant it held on through the heatwave.”

The 44ha of grit corn was all forward-sold through a local grain trader.

Both paddocks were sown on October 7 2016 with a Norseman 8-row planter on 91cm rows and harvested on April 17 2017.

Both received 1.8L/ha of dual gold post-plant and 125g/ha of lightning in-crop, as well as 1.5kg/ha of atrazine.

The dryland block was fallowed 7 months out of grain sorghum, received 160kg/ha of N pre-plant with 50kg/ha of 812S starter fertiliser at planting, and the seeding rate was 35,000 seeds/ha.

The irrigated block was fallowed out of barley with 130kg of N/ha pre-plant, with a further 150kg/ha of N applied September 2016. There was 60kg/ha of 812S fertiliser applied at-plant and the planting rate was 55,000 seeds/ha.

For the upcoming summer crop season, the Ryan’s will plant PAC 727IT again, and add tough sorghum variety MR-Bazley to complement their mainstay MR-Taurus.

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