A golden record - 7.16t/ha yield for canola crop
Article I Lucy Moore
It was dual purpose, dual income, risk minimising, profit doubling freak of farming winter crop.
Twentieth century farmers would say it were too good to be true, but it has been seen and believed on the western fringe of the Greater Blue Mountains near Oberon, New South Wales.
Last year, farm manager Peter Brooks and Delta Ag agronomist James Cheetham grew a canola crop of the Pacific Seeds’ Hyola 970CL variety on “Mayfield”, Oberon, to receive a mind-boggling and record breaking 7.16/hectare yield and the expected media coverage a success like this brings.
Fast-forward to now and the celebration of such a successful endeavour on country traditionally reserved for livestock grazing and production is starting to trigger lightbulb moments for fellow sheep graziers around Oberon.
The town rests 1,113m above sea level lending it to high annual rainfall and snowfall in the winter months.
The prevalence of a very cold climate and the long-held trajectory toward grazing, not cropping, meant the record canola crop was the first harvested at Oberon.
However, Peter Brooks has been growing canola at Goulburn on the Southern Tablelands for many years and Delta agronomist James Cheetham said they were game enough to take a chance.
“We weren’t sure about (cropping canola at) Oberon but we had knowledge on the dual grazing and grain system, so we were confident but not 100 per cent sure of it being a success,” Delta Ag agronomist James Cheetham says.
Now, Hyola 970CL is the leading grazing canola variety and more and more graziers are learning of what it could potentially offer their businesses.
James explains grazing canola crops had become very popular in the last 8-10 years particularly on the Southern Tablelands and it was interesting and encouraging to see it being investigated further elsewhere.
James explains varieties such as Hyola 970CL were long season winter types, allowing for early sowing in late summer as opposed to the traditional canola sowing window in April.
“This grows a large amount of biomass (leaf), which is useful as sheep feed to fatten lambs for example before locking the paddock up again in June/July to proceed as a grain crop,” he says.
There is no refuting the impact of supply and demand. Consistently strong sheep and lamb prices combined with ongoing high grain prices as seen in the five to six years to now prompted the wide spread adoption of this graze and grain golden ticket.
James tells me interest is now strong from graziers wishing to try the system for themselves.
“It’s basically a double income stream. The dollars per hectare off those couple of paddocks last year were unbelievable and the profitability of that double-faced system is extremely high,” he says.
“It opens more options for people in that instead of the traditional pasture grazing scenario it helps manage risk, where producers are getting the grazing income off the crop early before diving in again and locking what is quite an expensive crop to grow up for grain.”
While the dual-purpose canola variety has inarguable benefits, it is not without the challenges of climatic and seasonal pressures all farmers are accustomed to.
James says a lot of planning and preparation went into ensuring the paddocks were primed for planting and due to it being a costly crop compared with traditional forages like oats, a lot of careful consideration was involved.
“Not only do things need to be done right, things also need to go your way, which they did with the “Mayfield” crop,” he says.
“The area boasts really strong basalt soils, we had 850mm of rain last year and we had a really mild grain filling period through October and into November that enabled the plants to keep flowering and setting seed pods.
“To its credit the crop did have snow over it at one stage last year but those mild conditions at the crucial time ultimately led to success.”
James explains that frost risk was a given in the Oberon area but it would not deter potential growers.
“It’s important to note the record crop was not just a one hit wonder,” he says.
“We have growers keen to invest and diversify firstly into a high-quality sheep feeding crop with the option of grain thereafter. It’s exciting to see, especially given the fact Oberon is not traditionally a grain growing area.”
With plenty of optimism on board, James believes the best may be yet to come.
“Canola varieties have a lifespan of between four and five years and require continual updates to combat disease resistance,” he says. Seed companies are always looking to improve varieties and we’re already starting to see some new winter types hit the market in the dual-purpose space.
“The significance of the “Mayfield” crop should not be underestimated and it gives us the confidence to aim higher than before in targeting yield potentials, benefiting mixed cropping and grazing enterprises simultaneously.”
If results like these become the benchmark we can only ask for, what could be next big record breaker for Aussie agriculture?