In the zone
Article I Rosie O’Keeffe Photography I Camilla Duffy
Robert Taylor has enhanced the efficiencies in his mixed farming operation at Greenethorpe through investing in technology and new management practices. He explains how his dryland cropping, Merino sheep production and commercial hay enterprise has evolved, and in recent years even achieving record yields.
Mandy, Fletcher, Rob & Bob Taylor prepare paddocks for more winter crop planting
As 4th generation farmer Robert Taylor (Rob) sows the remaining winter crops on his 2,500-hectare operation at Greenethorpe, he hopes the 2023 season is as productive as the past three seasons which harvested some of the highest wheat yields on record.
“We are already experiencing a magnificent autumn, with weeds emerging early so we can control those, and we have had a full profile of moisture… I believe it has been a perfect start to the season,” Rob explains.
Last year, not only did some of his crops harvest 8.5 tonne/hectare, but 2021 also proved to be a productive growing season, with canola averaging yields of 3.6t/ha and wheat crops averaging above 6t/ha.
And Rob has not only been the only one to celebrate his achievements, being awarded state champion in the Suncorp Bank Championship Dryland Field Wheat Competition for two years’ running.
“It’s really rewarding to have achieved at this level, particularly when so many growers were experiencing such productive years as well,” Rob says.
The Taylor family has been involved in agriculture for several years, with Rob’s father Bob originally farming with his brothers around Monteagle, north of Young, before he acquired a property at Greenethorpe in 1959, with further properties purchased over the years to expand operations.
Rob recalls always having an interest in farming and returned to the family enterprise with his father Bob after completing a Bachelor of Applied Science in Agriculture and then gaining different experience on-farm in Canada.
Bob is still involved in the farm operations, however, with one full-time employee within the family’s Hazeldene Pastoral Company, Bob has now reduced his practical involvement.
Rob’s wife Mandy and sons Thomas, Stirling and Fletcher have also been involved in the farm’s activities over the years at “Glenalla”, however, it is Fletcher who is now most likely to continue the family farming legacy, currently studying agriculture in Wagga, while Thomas and Stirling are now working in other industries.
“I am definitely passionate about farming, but we do also pursue off-farm business interests as well,” Rob says.
“Our property suits a mixed farming operation. Since the early days we have grown wheat, oats and cereals with managed sheep and wool production. From the early 1980s we started growing canola and pulse crops and the balance has progressively changed to 60 per cent of area to cropping and 40 per cent to pasture for livestock enterprises,” Rob says.
“We have expanded the enterprise to include more land as the opportunity became available.”
Rob explains that the farm is almost all arable land. With the Tyagong and Brundah creeks running throughout the property and the elevation varying throughout the farm, paddocks are now zoned so grazing crops and pastures are planted predominantly in low lying areas, with others used for intensive cropping.
“Our rotation is mainly canola/wheat for 6 to 8 years then barley undersown to pasture. The cropping intensity varies somewhat depending on the farm location. The legume based pasture phase replenishes nitrogen, helps to rebuild soil carbon and assists with weed control.” Rob says.
This year, 60 per cent of the canola crops are Clearfield hybrid varieties and 40 per cent are triazine varieties, while the spring wheats are Raidar, Sunmaster, Mustang, and a little bit of RockStar. Rob concedes that RockStar is susceptible to disease, but when protected with fungicides has been a high yielding variety.
“I have always embraced technology when it became available. I have gone through the new phases of ‘no till’, we were early adopters of GPS technology and we are using full controlled traffic practices with matched implements to 12 metre seeder, header, 36m sprayers and spreader on 3m wheel spacing. We have been doing that since the 2012 season, not so much from a production point of view, but for efficiency. It works well to improve traffic ability and fuel efficiency and minimises compaction. We have also found that with the wet years we have been experiencing, it has enabled us to get back into paddocks more quickly after rain events,” Rob explains.
He says the family has had a long association with Delta Ag, now led by farm consultancy and agronomy advice from Dave Crowley, and the precision agriculture team.
“Dad was a client of Chandlers at Monteagle and this association continued right through to when Gerard (Hines) and Chris (Duff) originally established the Delta business. We have a great working relationship with the team and they always go that little bit extra to give us the best advice and service to ensure we maximise productivity in our operations. They are always knowledgeable in the latest information and research and the field days extension activities always hit the mark too.”
Rob has been using precision agriculture technologies for variable rate lime, urea and nitrogen applications.
Delta Agribusiness Farm Consultant Dave Crowley with Robert Taylor at “Glenalla”, Greenethorpe
“The property is zoned, so we are also using other technologies in conjunction with precision agriculture, such as NDVI satellite imagery, moisture probes and yield mapping. We have been soil testing on a zone basis and are moving towards grid sampling to fine tune the system further.
“I wouldn’t say we are growing better crops because of these practices, but we are certainly managing our inputs better.”
Rob says with the philosophy to manage the farm operations themselves with machinery investment, it has ensured the convenience and flexibility to adapt practices and timings to suit changing conditions.
Rob recently invested in an updated boom spray which has will enable the use of drone mapping so we can implement precision spraying.
With a view to cost savings and more efficient use of herbicide both in fallow and crop.
“We use harvest weed seed management and rotate pre-emergent chemistry to keep seed banks down. Selective crop topping, hay making and the pasture phase has allowed us to stay on top of weeds but you need to be diligent,” Rob says. We also use strategic cultivation to incorporate lime and are not afraid to burn stubble when required.”
Rob says with average annual rainfall of 600mm, “Glenalla” is in a reliable area with good productive soils and the landscape is reasonably well drained.
“Our biggest challenge is frost because of our elevation. We try to combat that using zoning of the paddocks, running livestock and making hay to spread the risk. Grazing canola and wheat comprise about 20 per cent of the cropping rotation, which allow us to run more stock and are usually the highest gross margin paddocks.
“We have a good network of dairy clients on the South Coast who we have sold clover, lucerne and cereal hay to over many years. In years of a bad frost event or drought we have baled canola and wheat crops as well.”
Rob says the livestock enterprise has always focused on Merino sheep with Pooginook bloodlines, with currently around 5,000 Merino ewes and their replacements run in the paddocks.
“It fluctuates depending on the season, but we try to target 11 to 12 DSEs per hectare, the last few springs have been huge allowing us to run more numbers, but if conditions taper off and pasture availability falls then we will ditch surplus sheep,” Rob says.
“We have changed the focus of our breeding a lot. It used to be based mainly on wool production, but now we are selecting for quicker maturity, large plain bodies, managing our sheep for dual purpose. We fatten all our wether progeny. Ewes are managed to target high conception and weaning rates. Adult ewes are 19 to 20 micron, heavy cutting, easy care sheep.”
Rob says around 25 per cent of ewes are joined to terminal sires for lamb production, with the core breeders making up 75 per cent of ewe numbers joined to merino rams as part of the self-replacing flock.
“The returns for meat and surplus sheep have increased significantly over the past decade and now contribute more to gross earnings than the wool income. However, the combination of all three enterprises wool, meat and surplus sheep sales I believe rank very highly in comparison to all livestock options and is a good fit for our farm. Albeit the sheep side of the business requires plenty of time, labour and management to get it right.”
Rob says pasture management is also a key part of the enterprise.
“We have a lucerne clover blend, then depending on the area of the property we also grow perennial grasses phlalaris, fescue, cocksfoot and chicory in the mix. We tend to use the perennial grass mixtures on the lower creek country which is likely to be in the pasture phase for longer and provides great groundcover and protection for lambing ewes. The lucerne, clover pastures are shorter duration and can also be used for hay. The lambs particularly thrive on that and it enables us to fatten stock all year round too.”
Just as the farming land has expanded over the years, significant capital investment has been made in improving infrastructure over the years.
Bob & Fletcher Taylor
A large machinery shed/workshop built in recent years has now enabled maintenance, servicing and repairs to be done regardless of the weather and machinery to be stored undercover, while a new 6-stand shearing shed and covered sheep yards currently being constructed will further improve efficiencies in the on-farm livestock operations.
“We are constantly updating our water systems and fencing and we plan to also increase the grain storage on-farm in the coming years,” Rob says.
Hopefully, as now late winter approaches and Rob gives a seasonal update, the outlook will remain positive for a successful harvest once again, despite conditions drier than when Rob first spoke to Prospect as he planted the last of his winter crops.
“Crop prospects are still looking solid, although I am very conscious of a forecast dry spring and possible El Nino developing. We still have a decent profile of moisture and provided we get average spring rain and dodge late frosts the outcome should be okay,” Rob says..
And with the strong interest from youngest son Fletcher to return to the farm in the coming years, and a focus on continuing to embrace innovation, there is no doubt the Taylor family’s farming legacy will be instilled for years to come.