Growers adapt to dry seasons

Early plant allows for double cropping

Cropping
Daniel Wegener, Karingal, Brigalow, in barley stubble which was double-cropped from sorghum this year and yielded 1.5t/ha.

Daniel Wegener, Karingal, Brigalow, in barley stubble which was double-cropped from sorghum this year and yielded 1.5t/ha.

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With no end in sight to the ongoing dry conditions, many producers are trialing different growing scenarios in an effort to adapt.

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With no end in sight to the ongoing dry conditions, many producers are trialing different growing scenarios in an effort to adapt.

On the Darling Downs, Neil and Daniel Wegener have taken to early planting sorghum, in the hopes of better water use efficiency, avoiding January heatwaves, and opening up the opportunity to double crop.

"In 2017 we deep planted sorghum in August, which is technically going too deep and too early, but we got a reasonable strike out of it," Daniel Wegener said.

"The last decent rainfall had been the very first weekend of July, so I deep planted again at the start of September and the crop got away.

"The next major rainfall event was in October, that's when most other people planted, and that's when we planted the remainder of it.

"Because we were trying something new, we didn't just go in and do the whole lot, but from what we've seen we were actually getting a better crop at the end of the day compared to the main plant."

Trialing the early plant again in 2018, they found similar results.

"We weren't getting a proper rainfall event until October and with the crop already established then, the in-crop rain was a lot more beneficial than no in-crop rain, so we were getting a bit of a head start," he said.

"With that happening in 2017 and also last year, it gave us well above our yields for our main plant in October.

"We are definitely getting better water use efficiency out of the early plant because the crop wasn't growing through consecutive heat waves.

"On that first crop, most of it was nearly finished by the first week of January and I think we'd only had one heatwave up until then; after January, that's when the rest started and that's when the yields went right back on the main-planted crop."

Unfortunately, this year it was far too dry to attempt any sort of sorghum crop, but Mr Wegener said comparing the results of the 170 hectares planted early and deep in both 2017 and 2018 to the crop planted at a traditional time had given him the confidence to early-plant a larger area.

"Planting it deep, it took 16 days to come up. We had four frost events in 2017, it would have been down to -4 and you dig the sorghum up and think it's not going to grow.

"And some was that thin you could chase a mob of bullocks through it, but it still out-yielded the stuff planted later that came up good and grew good, but hit a heatwave. There was less lodging and less screenings.

"It takes two weeks to 16 days to come up out of the ground, then it's still cold and doesn't rain for six weeks, and then we got five inches of rain last year and away it went and that's the only rain that it had."

Trialing early-planted sorghum has opened up the option of double cropping at Karingal, Brigalow.

Mr Wegener said getting the crop off early meant a winter crop could take advantage of the good storm rain they usually get from January to March.

"Last year I early planted sorghum in August and got quite a good strike. The paddock has a low area and we got rain in October so it was delayed because it got a little bit water-logged," he said.

"When we came to harvest around the 22nd of January, the water-logged bit was still a bit behind because it was delayed by about three weeks; we came in and harvested the rest of it about the 14th of February with no difference in yield."

After 120mm of rain in March, they were able to double-crop the paddock and deep-plant barley, but the barley planted in the earlier-harvested country yielded 1.5 tonnes per hectare, while the waterlogged area only did 0.8t/ha.

"It's had the same rain, but the difference is the sorghum was delayed so it's taken out the extra moisture.

"It's important you get the most out of that amount of water because we got no more sorghum off that crop, but we ended up getting less barley.

"Getting sorghum in early, getting it off early, and then trying to get as much opportunity to get rain on that for the very next crop, that's something that we've seen."

Mr Wegener said the flipside of that was waiting for October rain and planting sorghum at a conventional time, which would have meant they wouldn't have been able to plant barley.

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