Organic wheat opportunity at Augathella

Peart, Tully families take a punt on organic wheat crop at Augathella


Agribusiness
Jody and Gerard Tully, with son Archie, in the 1000 hectares of Flanker variety organic wheat, planted at eight inch spacings at Mareto, Augathella. Picture - Sally Cripps.

Jody and Gerard Tully, with son Archie, in the 1000 hectares of Flanker variety organic wheat, planted at eight inch spacings at Mareto, Augathella. Picture - Sally Cripps.

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It's a bit of a gamble but the Peart and Tully families at Mareto, north of Augathella are hoping an organic wheat crop will pay big dividends.

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It's a bit of a gamble but the Peart and Tully families at Mareto, north of Augathella, are hoping an organic wheat crop will pay big dividends.

In a normal season, the 1000-hectare paddock would be set aside to grow sorghum or oats for Kenton and Amy Peart's organic cattle fattening operation, but with greatly reduced stock numbers, another opportunity presented itself.

As manager Gerard Tully explained, because they'd reduced cattle numbers so drastically in the drought and they felt it would be difficult to quickly fill paddocks with cattle when it rained, it was unrealistic to expect to put a couple of thousand head on crops.

"We took a bit of a punt and planted wheat," Mr Tully said.

"So far, fingers crossed, it's looking quite good."

After good rain in March and again at the start of May, the decision was made based on the needs of the variety and the available soil moisture to plant Flanker wheat at the end of May.

Planted at 38kg to the hectare, Mr Tully said he planted on eight inch spacings rather than the accepted 12- to 15-inch spacings because of the organic needs of the crop.

"Because we can't in-crop spray we need a thick, dense crop to keep the weeds out," he said.

Finding the right equipment and retaining moisture have been the big challenges, especially as growing organic wheat is not something that's common in western Queensland.

"Our biggest challenge in this country is moisture," Mr Tully said.

"Zero tilling and spraying for weeds is not an option so to get rid of weeds you've got to plough, and to plough you lose moisture."

As far as marketing options go for the wheat crop, Mr Tully said organic stockfeed suppliers and organic chicken farmers were ringing them already.

"We could sell it tomorrow," he said.

"We haven't sold it yet, but people are chasing us for forward contracts."

Mr Peart added that they'd made the decision to try organic wheat based on current prices.

With widespread dry conditions meaning not a lot of wheat has been planted in eastern Australia compared to normal, they are hoping they've played their cards right.

"We're pretty much guaranteed a crop now, without the full profile of moisture," Mr Tully said.

"The worst case scenario is we won't get a good crop but will have a good volume of feed and we put stock on to feed it off, which is what we do with oats anyway.

"The best case - we're hoping to get 0.8 tonnes to the acre.

"It has been done a few years before, a good while ago, in a zero till farming environment so I can't see why we can't do it again."

Creating pasture options

First calf heifers at Mareto, which was totally destocked until it rained in March.

First calf heifers at Mareto, which was totally destocked until it rained in March.

A decision to plant the 1000ha of wheat may have required an investment in new equipment, but it has given them the option to plant straight into their grazing country.

Mr Tully said the new planter was something they'd had on the farming wishlist, and would allow them to plant oats into Mitchell grass with minimal disturbance.

"Our long-term goal was to do this, to have this option depending on the seasons," Mr Tully said.

"When it first rained (this year) and the Mitchell grass didn't respond, if we had planted then, we would have gone straight in and planted oats so we've got something there, not just herbage."

Deciding to go "old school" and use a coil packer to roll the ground behind the planter, the families purchased a new planter, a secondhand air seeder and a coil packer.

Most of it came from Victoria and needed reassembling on the ground at Augathella, arriving just in time for when it rained in May.

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