Barley crop out of this world

Irrigation used to good effect on Goondiwindi barley crop

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Undabri farm manager Chris Edmonds in the 220ha paddock of irrigated Planet barley, which is expected to yield about nine tonnes a hectare. Pictures: Sally Gall

Undabri farm manager Chris Edmonds in the 220ha paddock of irrigated Planet barley, which is expected to yield about nine tonnes a hectare. Pictures: Sally Gall

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RGT Planet is a reasonably new barley variety in Queensland but if Chris Edmonds' experience of growing it this year is anything to go by, there'll be a lot more of it planted in future.

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RGT Planet is a reasonably new barley variety in Queensland but if Chris Edmonds' experience of growing it this year is anything to go by, there'll be a lot more of it planted in future.

Mr Edmonds manages Undabri and Yambocullie at Goondiwindi for Oriental Agriculture and said the irrigated paddock of Planet he's begun to harvest is the biggest crop he's ever seen, let alone grown.

"A good irrigation crop is six tonnes per hectare - we think that we're going to be doing about 9t/ha, which is phenomenal, it's a very big one," he said.

Mr Edmonds, who worked as a harvest contractor in NSW for 10 years prior to taking on management of the Goondiwindi farm three years ago, said the decision to plant barley, and Planet in particular, was motivated in part by the amount of ground cover it promised to deliver.

Thanks to four years of drought it's been a sorely missed addition to the sodic black soil of the 220ha paddock.

"It's registered as malt in NSW and its properties are that it grows big yields and it puts out very good stubble cover, and I need both of those," Mr Edmonds said.

Wanting to use the very welcome 240mm of rain that fell in February rather than lose the water captured in overland flow to evaporation, and with wheat and barley each worth around $300/tonne at the time, the option for cashflow was the deciding factor.

The crop was planted the day before Anzac Day and watered the day after. In total it received 16 passes of water with the travelling irrigator, at the equivalent of 20mm of rain each time.

Harvesters began work in the dryland Planet barley paddocks at Undabri a fortnight ago and were stripping 800 tonnes a day.

Harvesters began work in the dryland Planet barley paddocks at Undabri a fortnight ago and were stripping 800 tonnes a day.

A planting experiment also paid dividends when Mr Edmonds decided on two variations, to plant with discs but with tines behind the wheels, and to use the southern Australia tine spacing of 13 and a third inches rather than the Queensland standard of 15 inches.

"The wheels compact the soil so we put tines behind them to bust it out, and we found that the tines were busting the soil open and bringing out little tennis ball-sized clods," he said.

That unwittingly appears to have addressed a problem of a crust forming on the top of the soil after it gets wet, while the spacing means they're getting one extra row each metre and better ground cover.

"It just gives it a better doona over the soil," Mr Edmonds said. "I think that we've been very, very lucky to not only get that ground cover but we're actually going to get a half reasonable crop, considering I've got neighbours that haven't planted."

Forward selling the crop isn't on the agenda. Mr Edmonds said the owners had been burnt in the last three or four years forward selling and then not being able to meet their commitments.

The 15-span overhead travelling irrigator and its 750 sprinklers.

The 15-span overhead travelling irrigator and its 750 sprinklers.

A mixture of overhead and flood irrigation was used to good effect this year on the combined Undabri-Yambocullie aggregation.

Oriental Agriculture had nine structures, a mix of centre pivot and lateral move travelling irrigators, watering 900 hectares of the 18,000ha property.

A total of 8000ha was put under crops, half to barley and half to wheat, starting in April and again six weeks later after a 40mm rain event.

Mr Edmonds had hoped for some in-crop rain but when that didn't happen, they ended up using all their stored water to ensure the irrigated barley was a bumper.

After planting they would have been looking for a minimum of 140mm to make a crop but only received 40-50mm, highlighting irrigation's value.

Because the irrigated Planet barley grew so tall, the plan is to slash and bale the stalk, leaving about 15cm for ground cover.

"The rest of this will turn into mulch and it will come onto our soil and break down," Mr Edmonds said.

"As long as this is done well before planting next year, giving us a doona over the summer - we could get an inch of rain and I reckon a week later it would still be wet down deep.

"It would be beneficial because the alternative is, if the planter was in here in winter, and it couldn't get through I'd have to set fire to it."

The deep cracks in the soil show how valuable organic material will be once the wheat and barley crops have been harvested.

The deep cracks in the soil show how valuable organic material will be once the wheat and barley crops have been harvested.

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