Despite drought conditions and minimal in-crop rainfall, some farmers in the Coonamble district of NSW have managed to get a crop through to harvest this year, showcasing the importance of zero tillage systems, good weed control and varietal choice.
Coonamble farmer Tony Single said about half the normal cropping program had been planted at Narratigah after a break of up to 70 millimetres of rain fell in March.
"It is amazing how well the crops performed on relatively low starting moisture and a lack of in-crop rainfall," he said.
"There won't be any record breaking yield results, but a couple of the paddocks in particular will deliver a solid return with the current grain prices."
Mr Single said the driver to plant this year was dictated by a lack of ground cover.
"We've been running on a low cropping frequency since 2016, which has meant the majority of the farm had extremely low ground cover, paddocks were beginning to suffer from wind erosion," he said.
"So any paddock which we thought we could get a half decent establishment on went into crop."
Mr Single said while a couple of paddocks put on enough biomass to make hay an option, he decided to run through to harvest.
"I'd want to see a margin of about $200 to $250 a hectare more for hay than grain to counteract how much dry matter you export off the paddock and how little ground cover it leaves behind," he said.
"Retaining that ground cover will increase the profits significantly in both the next cropping season as well as longer term by preventing erosion.
"Ultimately the grain price remained high and we yielded enough to be happy with that decision."
Mr Single said while there were a number of practices which contributed to getting a crop through in tough conditions, it ultimately boiled down to timeliness.
"It think at its heart farming is a pretty simple game. It is about doing the basics right and getting your timing right," he said.
"For us that means timely weed control, proactively managing our weed seed bank and retaining stubble cover. It is about maximising every millimetre of rain that falls."
Mr Single said the number one practice to increase water infiltration was to maintain good levels of ground cover.
"There are certain realities which mean that doesn't always happen," he said.
"For example chickpea prices were quite exceptional in 2016 and the returns were too good to pass up, but as it turned out that cost us significantly over the next few years because it reduced our ground cover and dropped our fallow efficiency to the point we couldn't plant."
Mr Single said over the past five years he had seen significant improvements to the varieties of wheat available.
"I think some of the varieties are delivering significant gains in terms of both top-end yield and more importantly yield reliability in more difficult seasons," he said.
"For us choosing varieties is about spreading out our planting window and spreading risk.
"We sowed the SunMax at the beginning of the season, the 15th of April, to get a crop in before we lost planting moisture," he said.
"Normally I wouldn't put that variety in on low planting moisture, but it held its yield very well in a very trying season.
"Next we planted Lancer, because it has a conservative growth habit, which is ideal for a low moisture start, then some SunTop and durum wheat as we got later in the window."
Mr Single said the crops spent the season on a knife edge, with less than 20mm of rain received in-crop.
"The crops have generally grown off the primary roots, you could go into paddocks and pluck the plant straight out because the secondary roots never established," he said.
"That may have helped us, the plants never put a lot of early biomass on, conserving moisture."