Sorghum the crop as a rule for summer plant

Ruhle family putting all their eggs in sorghum basket


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Top tillers: An extra drink of rain after planting has set the sorghum crop at Pratten up nicely for John, Jesse, Allan and David Ruhle. Pictures: Sally Cripps.

Top tillers: An extra drink of rain after planting has set the sorghum crop at Pratten up nicely for John, Jesse, Allan and David Ruhle. Pictures: Sally Cripps.

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Among the early sorghum crops beginning to put a green tinge along the Condamine River floodplain in the Allora region is 1000 hectares belonging to the Ruhle family.

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Among the early sorghum crops beginning to put a green tinge along the Condamine River floodplain in the Allora region is 1000 hectares belonging to the Ruhle family.

Thanks to 200mm of rain in October, the multi-generational farmers and contractors – John, his two sons Allan and David, and Allan’s son Jesse – have put all their bets on sorghum this summer.

Both their own Boundary Farm country and a sharefarmed block closer to Pratten, all heavy black soil river flats, are sown to varieties of sorghum, including long fallow country that’s gone two years without anything on it.

“It was a full profile of moisture and we know for sure it will grow a crop,” David said.

They’ve planted a number of varieties, mainly the benchmark MR Buster but also a few Pioneer varieties, G44 among them.

“We started off just trialling it but this last year we’ve planted probably 600 acres of 44,” Allan said.

“Then we've probably got another 600 acres of the A66 – we’ll give that a go – and then we've tried a couple of experimental bags that they haven't released yet, that we've got planted here that's looking nice.”

Thanks to Pioneer trials taking place on the farm, the Ruhles know that G44 has the ability to out-yield most other varieties.

“It stayed green and its strike was very good,” David explained.

“The balance of the farm is Buster – you can't go past it, it's the old staple one for here.

“We're finding a few of these others are working well for us – again it's yield, that's the big one for us, that's the one that pays.”

Allan said they’d also found that in a hard year, Buster tended to lodge but the 44 varieties stood up better on their country, and out-yielded Buster too.

“We can go and head all the Buster first and come back to the 44.”

Pioneer has some 830 different varieties being trialled in a plot on the farm, which is working well for the Ruhles, in that they get to see what works well on their own place.

“We let them in to do their experiments and we get a bit of feedback off them,” Allan said. On their advice, they’ve sown this year at 70,000 seeds to the hectare, rather than the 63,000 they’ve been used to.

“They felt we may have been planted it a little bit lighter at times – let's see in 12 months, by the time we get the money back in,” Allan said.

Apart from another 30 acres of forage sorghum to make hay, the Ruhles’ summer planting is complete.

John, Jesse, David and Allan Ruhle with the Condamine River floodplain and some of their early sorghum crop just emerging.

John, Jesse, David and Allan Ruhle with the Condamine River floodplain and some of their early sorghum crop just emerging.

While they’re smiling off the back of a good break in the season, the Ruhle family said prior to that, it had been the driest season they’d experienced in their 12 years in the Allora region.

“It's the longest we've been without decent rain,” David said.

“We’ve got cattle farmers next to us and they're doing it tough.

“You don't have to go far – you only have to drive to Felton, or go round the corner here – we've planted for people down the road here that have only had 60mm, and that's nearly just across the road.”

They acknowledge that while they didn’t get a winter crop and missed that income, they’ve only felt the pinch of drought for the last six months.

While they waited for rain they made good use of their time, laser levelling land to eliminate wet spots, and fencing their ridge country so they can feed cattle in little mobs and sell them.

Now that it’s rained they’ve been busy contract planting and spraying.

Allan said they weren’t planning to forward sell, partly because they didn’t think there was a lot of sorghum about at present and partly because they were fearful of flooding.

“You can have it all there one day and the next it's all gone,” he said. “Once it gets up a bit, a flood won't hurt it, it's just a good watering. But it's a bit nerve-wracking until it gets there.”

Despite purchasing a block of land between their two Allora blocks, that came complete with the ability to use centre pivots, they are dryland farmers.

Following negotiations with the federal government regarding water buybacks, in which they felt refusing would leave them with no compensation down the track, they sold their water rights.

“We did the figures on it all and figuring in the cost of power and infrastructure, we worked out we'd be better to sell the water and possibly buy a bit more dryland country, especially as we lost half our water,” Allan said.

“The place was set up – about 500 acres can be irrigated here quite easily.

“We also felt we didn't have the right amount of water to make it efficient.

“There's three bores but you've got to be pumping a long time to get enough water out of the ground.”

The Ruhles anticipate harvesting in March, and will be happy with between two and 2.5 tonnes to the hectare, but if they get three tonnes they will be really happy.

“Anything over three is a bonus. It just makes the header go harder,” Allan said.

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