East Binnu grower Rohan Ford likens the role soils play in his low rainfall farming system to having the proper foundations for a house.
“Soils are the basis of what we do as grain growers,” he said.
“If your soils are not in good condition, you can’t buffer against poorer seasons and your losses will be greater.
“It is crucial to have your soils right so crop plants can get to the bottom of the soil moisture ‘bucket’.”
Mr Ford said Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF), which he and wife Carol adopted in 2000, was central to maximising the health of his non-wetting yellow sands, alleviating compaction and increasing crop yields.
“The CTF system is delivering our business a 10 to 15 per cent yield increase year-on-year, if the agronomy is right, and a 15 per cent saving on fuel,” he said.
Maximising returns in good seasons and minimising losses in poorer ones is a focus for Mr Ford – a recently appointed member of the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Western Regional Panel.
The Fords also recently featured in a GRDC publication Controlled Traffic Farming: Case studies of growers in Western Australia.
The 2017 season has been challenging due to low growing season rainfall and they expect their crop yields will be below average.
“Lupin and canola crops emerged thanks largely to moisture received from summer rain, but most of our wheat didn’t establish well,” Mr Ford said.
“Some of our crop didn’t come up until the second week of July 2017.”
Mr Ford, who farms 4800 hectares (4100ha cropped) said changing rainfall patterns – particularly in the last 10 years – were a major production issue, with less rain falling on the property from June to September but more summer rain being received.
“Heat is also an issue, with temperatures rising through the whole season,” he said.
Other production issues for his area include herbicide resistance in weeds and a limited number of suitable rotation crop options. The Ford’s cropping rotation comprises wheat, lupin and canola.
“I’m keen to see the development of drought-resistant legumes and pastures,” Mr Ford said.
“Even if we have a year where we don’t have the rainfall to sow a winter crop, it would be good to have the option of sowing a drought-resistant pasture in June to provide ground cover and add nitrogen to the soil.”
Mr Ford said blue lupin was a significant weed in the area and problematic in white lupin rotations.
“The ability to control blue lupin is one reason we have canola in the rotation, and it is also a good cash crop,” he said.
Soil acidity is an issue, and the Fords have long spread lime sand to increase pH levels.
The property does not carry livestock, with cattle being run for seven years up until about two years ago, and the last sheep leaving the farm in 1993.
“We can still see evidence of problems the cattle were causing by spreading annual ryegrass seed,” Mr Ford said.
He cites the opportunity to represent low rainfall areas as a significant reason for applying to join the GRDC Western Regional Panel.
“Our communities are suffering and getting smaller,” Mr Ford said.
“If we as growers can stay viable, our communities can also stay viable.”
Mr Ford says he is looking forward to playing an active role communicating information about GRDC investments to growers, and in turn delivering feedback from growers back to the GRDC.
He is one of three new members of the panel. Along with agronomist Michael Lamond and Fiona Gibson, a Mingenew grower and applied economist, he was recently appointed to the panel for a two-year term.
Returning panellists include Dunn Rock grower Peter Roberts (chairman); agronomic and agribusiness advisor Chris Wilkins; Ravensthorpe grower Andy Duncan; Mingenew grower Darrin Lee; Munglinup grower Gemma Walker; Merredin grower Jules Alvaro; and wheat geneticist Greg Rebetzke from CSIRO.
The GRDC’s regional panel system plays a critical advisory and strategic role in informing GRDC investment partnerships in research, development and extension (RD&E) to create enduring profitability for Australian grain growers.