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WA Agronomy Trip

The agronomy group recently travelled across to Western Australia for a week long tour of the Esperance, Albany and Dumbleyung regions.  A key area of interest was to look at how large farming business’ within the medium-high rainfall areas operate and manage   the challenges posed by  herbicide resistance and crop nutrition. Further challenges of sandy, non-wetting and nutrient leaching soils are also  of high importance. Numerous farms visited showed how growers are overcoming this constraint by means of clay spreading and incorporation. Spencer Weir & Sam Gabbe managed to bring together the groups notes and provide an overview of the trip.

Day 1.

Flying into Esperance on the Monday morning we were fascinating by the amount of canola seen from the air. The group was met on the ground by our tour guide, leading local agronomist Luke Marquis from Southeast Agronomy Services, who assured us that he had the “beers on ice” ready for the end of our day’s activities. 

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After lunch at the Condingup tavern we spent the afternoon at Andrew Fowler’s incredible farm ‘Chilwell’.  Andrew’s farm consisted of a 36,000ha cropping program on a gravelly sand, half wheat (mainly Scepter) half canola (mixture of hybrid TT’s and GM) and a livestock program running 25,000 ewes and 2,500 Angus breeders. Everyone was astounded by the size of the operation which must be seen to be believed.  Andrew operates 9 headers, 9 air-seeder’s (6 tyne & 3 disc) and 4 boom sprays, requiring up to 60 staff and 3 operations managers at peak operation.

Due to the proximity to the coast and the high rainfall climate, harvesting grain at high moisture is a common occurrence leading Andrew to install a grain drier to keep the headers rolling during harvest. Andrew quoted that for every day’s delay in harvesting after crop is ripe, his calculations show that there is a 0.5% loss in yield. So, he said that if by not harvesting because of high moisture  and his harvest is pushed back 14 days, he has potentially thrown away 7% profit. Most astonishingly a quick calculation established that last year Chilwell was delivering $1.6 million worth of wheat per day.

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Figure 2: Andrew Fowler explaining to the Western Ag team how his grain dryer functions

Later that afternoon we visited a CSBP (fertiliser) trial site looking at polymer coated and nitrogen stabilising treated urea trying to minimise both de-nitrification and volatilisation. Although the polymer coated trials had issues, the stabilising treated plots looked promising. Hopefully, we can see some results at the end of the year.

Day 2.

Day two started off at Chadwick looking through Luke Maquis’ trials designed for speed breeding new varieties for longreach plant breeders helping them discover new varieties. Luke achieves this by way of exposing the plants to up to 20 hours of UV light inside a sealed and temperature regulated container, as well as growing new lines out in a hot house. Luke showed us their trails seeder which included UAN deep banders which is common practise in WA at sowing. The rest of the morning was spent visiting canola variety trial sites with Nuseed and Advanta looking at the new varieties against the current grower standards.

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Figure 4: A look at Luke's Hot House trials

We grabbed lunch at The Soak Hotel at Gibson and travelled to Mic Fels farm at Neridup. If you follow Twitter, you will know what Mic has been up to in recent years. He is the founder of iPaddock, which is the home of smart farming Apps and farm equipment. Mic’s biggest engineering feat has been the design and manufacture of the  Alpha disc unit that he sells either as a single disc or two single discs set at 7.5” row spacings. He also manufactures custom bars purpose built for clients, as well as his Typhoon header feed drum and the Unstacker used to load out grain from any surface such as open storage or bunkers. As well as this Mic talked about his yield forecasting app he has developed, iPaddock Yield, which gives growers more accurate yield forecasted depending on previous years data and current climate conditions.

Mic crops 5000 ha of gravelly sand, with a rotation consisting of two years of canola (TT followed by GM), two years of wheat and then two years of barley. He employs a more minimalistic approach than most with no insecticides, minimal fungicides, and herbicides and is very profit driven.

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Figure 5: The Western Ag Team having a look Mic's 80 foot Alpha Disc Seeding Unit

On our return to Esperance, we visited the CBH grain site where they presented on their logistics program and how much grain comes through the system annually.  They are continuously trying to build up storage capacities as every year seems to break new records with grain deliveries.

Day 3.

The day started with a three hour drive west to Hopetoun to visit ‘Redman Farms’.  The owner Stott Redman was a young guy with a good business mindset, evident from the outset. Stott initially spoke about the challenges he faced with succession planning and highlighted the importance of a balanced family life vs work life. Stott was cropping 15,000 ha in a canola wheat rotation with a 450-500mm rainfall. The soil type was a little heavier comprising more loam which was evident by the higher yield potential crops. The crops here were as good as any high rainfall crops back home. Stott runs 6 permanent staff and up to 12 in total during the busy months.  Like most farmers in the area, he runs a grain drier which he shifts from block to block to speed up logistics to the port. The grain drier can handle 40 tonnes an hour which is offset by at least 300 tonnes of storage at each block to handle the back log. Stott deep bands UAN at seeding along with utilising splitter boots to target last year’s crop row due to the non-wetting sands benefiting from water harvested from the previous year’s row.

At this point the group said our farewell to tour guide Luke Marquis who did an incredible job showing us around, giving us an excellent insight into how things are done in the west. 

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Figure 6: Redman Farms Canola

Back on the bus the group headed towards Wellstead to visit Scott Smiths’ farm ‘Green Range’. There we met up with our next tour guide Nathan Dovey, who had just recently joined the David Grays team at Wellstead as the store manager. Scott crops about 6000 ha on sand over gravel over clay soils with some deep sand ridges. His main rotation consisted of canola followed by wheat with average yields 2-2.5t and 4-5t respectively with a rainfall variance between 430 – 600mm. As most of Scott’s soils are non-wetting, he started spreading clay on them about 20 years ago. This first began with the help of contractors, but he has now purchased his own equipment to increase the quality of the operation and get more done each year. He is currently completing around 500 ha each year and hopes to have his whole property finished within 3-4 years. When Scott clays an area it is followed by a high rate of trace elements and an application of lime to bring the pH levels up. The first year the clayed country is planted to a mixed pasture then followed by canola and wheat just to allow the soil to settle a bit. Scott had some impressive gear in his shed that we all had a good look at.

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Figure 8: Gerard O’Brien in front of Scott’s bulldozer

Day 4.

The group departed Albany early to get to Mark Adams farm at Woogenellup. Mark runs a 5000ha cropping operation with his wife, kids and their partners. After many years running a lupin/barley rotation Mark now runs a canola/wheat rotation which includes GM canola. Mark’s average rainfall is about 450mm and works on a 2t/ha canola yield and 4t/ha wheat yield. Mark use to rely on narrow windrow burning which he thought did as good a job on the rye grass destruction as the seed terminators but with a small window to burn the rows it was becoming too time consuming so now focusses on the terminators for his harvest weed seed management.

 

He utilises seed terminators on both of his headers and replaces the mills every year to get the best efficiency out of them. He deals with a lot of snails in his area and has purchased a snail roller which he puts the canola seed through at harvest. This operates using  two rubber rollers that run close enough together to crush the snails but not the seed. This then ensures he is not knocked back at the silos.

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Figure 9: Mark Adams Explaining to the Team the pros and cons of the Seed Terminator

After a good chat with Mark the group travelled two hours north to David Grays Dumbleyung trial site. Once there the guys from David Grays put on a BBQ for us and showed us through some interesting trials. The site comprised variety trials, herbicide matrices, new chemistry demonstrations and some vetch/cereal options and weed control strategies. This was an exceptional site and we could have spent all day at but we had to get on the road for a 3-hour trip into Perth!


We’d like to thank all the growers that took the time to show us around their properties. They gave the group a great insight into how and why they run their business’s the way they do. Also, Western AG would like to thank the representatives from each company that spent time showing us through their trial sites: Nuseed, Pacific seed, CSBP, CBH and the guys from David Grays. Special thanks must go to as our tour guides Luke Marquis and Nathan Dovey, who without their help the trip would not have been as interesting.

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Figure 10: The Western Ag Team in WA

Lastly, the agronomy team would like the thank Western AG for giving us the opportunity to go on this trip for which we greatly appreciate. We will bring back a little bit of knowledge to impart on our own growers.

Article produced by - Sam Gabbe and Spencer Weir, Western AG Horsham

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