Mallee weed threat real

Climate, weed resistance biggest Mallee challlenges


Cropping
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Climate change and weed resistance were the two big challenges, facing Mallee croppers, according to Berriwillock’s John Renney.

Climate change and weed resistance were the two big challenges facing Mallee croppers, according to Berriwillock’s John Renney.

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Mr Renney, and his cousin Kim, own and run Renney Farms, 3300 hectares of land near the town, originally settled by his grandfather. “The Renney’s have been here for more than 100 years, it was originally mixed farming; we had sheep and a piggery,” he said.

Now it is exclusively cropping, with wheat, barley, chick peas, lentils and field peas, in the mix. Mr Renney said ryegrass, brome and milk thistle were the three biggest threats. Herbicide resistant weeds were and issue uppermost on the minds of many Mallee croppers.

“I’ve been on a Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) study tour to Western Australia, and it’s a bit of an eye opener to see what they are up against, over there,” he said. “You just can’t let up on it.

He said the main control method was herbicide rotation, followed by windrow burning. “We collect what comes out of the back of the header and burn that. If there are any weed seeds in there, hopefully they are destroyed.”  He said growing hay was also a good way to clean up resistant weeds.

“It’s just natural selection. If you have a weed population and 1 per cent are naturally resistant and you end up selecting for that, they will become the dominant species.”

It’s just natural selection. If you have a weed population and 1 per cent are naturally resistant and you end up selecting for that, they will become the dominant species. - John Renney, Berriwillock

It was unlikely the big companies would spend money on developing new chemicals, as spray technology had reached a peak. 

Mallee croppers and farmers had also already started to adapt to climate change, with no till, early sowing and using different varieties of seeds. At Berriwillock, the Renneys grow Compass, Scope, Hindmarsh and Spartacus barley, Clearfield wheat, such as Kord, Grenade and Scout, while “bulking up” on Sceptre.

“The Compass yielded really well, but did lodge, and made harvest difficult, because we lost a few heads,” Mr Renney said. The barley had been yielding four to five tonnes, a hectare. Mr Renney said Compass would go as feed grade, being only provisional for malting. Most of the wheat would be Australian Provisional White (APW), although there was some uncertainty on the grading at the beginning of the season.

“Considering the yields were a little bit higher, we thought the proteins would be down a bit, but it’s holding up pretty well.”

The harvest would be sold, throughout the year, to average the price, but the farm had 1000 tonnes of structural storage on property. There was also a bagging machine, for “opportunity storage – we whack it in, if we have extra.”

Grain was also stored at the Berriwillock co-operative. “In the Mallee, the biggest issue is knowing what you are going to get and what quality you are going to get.” This season’s good harvest followed a “terrible year,” with very poor yields and quality.

STORAGE PLANS: Berriwillock cropper John Renney said he used a mix of on-farm, and the Berriwillock co-operative for storage for his cereal and pulse crops. Photo: Andrew Miller

STORAGE PLANS: Berriwillock cropper John Renney said he used a mix of on-farm, and the Berriwillock co-operative for storage for his cereal and pulse crops. Photo: Andrew Miller

“The start of this year didn’t give us any promises, as there was no sub soil moisture.”

Mr Renney said the long range weather forecast was promising, but croppers went into the season, not knowing how it was going to end up.

 “Then it was hand to mouth, we were just getting enough rain to keep things ticking along nicely, nothing excessive, then we had September, with incredible rain.” The property received 164mm, while Tyrrell Creek flooded, causing some inundation of crops.

Of all the crops, the lentils performed the best, coming in at three tonnes a hectare. Mr Renney said insects were largely kept at bay this year, with the main pest and disease issue being fungus, particularly in the chick peas and lentils. “We had five sprays of fungicides, over the chick peas, and we are not really used to that, in the Mallee.”

The farm had been no-till for eight to ten years, which suited the system and the country. “The benefits are incredible, the number one benefit, particularly at harvest time, is operator fatigue,” he said. “It takes that concentration out of the equation.”

Only the boom spray was on its own tracks, but variable rate seeding and fertiliser application was used, as was mapping and GPS.  A three point linkage spreader was used for nitrogen.

“Phosphate rates are not incredibly high, six to nine of phosphate, and nitrogen, anything from 25 units to 50 units, depending on what crop and what rotational history it has.

“After coming off a big year, we’ll be upping our phosphate rates.

“We are trying to put more pulse crops in, to get more nitrogen into the system, and we also do vetch as a brown manure crop.”

GOOD SEASON: Spring rain brought a record harvest to the Mallee, including the Renney's Berriwillock property.

GOOD SEASON: Spring rain brought a record harvest to the Mallee, including the Renney's Berriwillock property.

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