Cracks in Pampas prospects

Cracks in Pampas prospects


Michael Hegarty, Alcheringa, Pampas, in his crop of Suntop wheat. Mr Hegarty says he is waiting for follow-up rain to allow the wheat plants to grow their secondary roots. - Picture: SARAH COULTON.

Michael Hegarty, Alcheringa, Pampas, in his crop of Suntop wheat. Mr Hegarty says he is waiting for follow-up rain to allow the wheat plants to grow their secondary roots. - Picture: SARAH COULTON.

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LIMITED rainfall and the associated yield penalties are an ongoing concern for central Darling Downs grain grower and agronomist Michael Hegarty.

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LIMITED rainfall and the associated yield penalties are an ongoing concern for central Darling Downs grain grower and agronomist Michael Hegarty.

Mr Hegarty farms 300 hectares on his property Alcheringa, at Pampas.

Alcheringa has an Anchorfield soil type - cracking, self-mulching black soil.

In the final week of August, Mr Hegarty planted a late winter crop of 100ha of Suntop and Baxter wheat.

Some of the wheat was planted on long fallow ground and the remainder was double-cropped, following sorghum that was harvested in autumn 2014.

It was sown with a 100 per cent disturbance planter at 50kg/ha and no fertiliser was applied at planting.

The long fallow ground had 90kg/ha of nitrogen applied in autumn 2013 and the double-cropped wheat had 60kg/ha of N applied pre-plant. From August 1, 2013, until August 1, 2014, Mr Hegarty said the useful rainfall was 275mm. The rainfall average is 650mm.

"Currently, we haven't had any useful follow-up rain to allow the wheat plants to grow their secondary roots," he said.

"They're pretty important for not only accessing more moisture -that is down below in the soil profile - but also to

help stand the crop up when it gets to harvest.

"It's possible that it will lodge and the crop is pretty short to start with because it was planted so late, so if we don't get secondary root development, there will be an additional yield penalty and may also be an additional penalty of harvest losses."

He expects to harvest at the end of November or in early December, depending on the arrival of relief rain.

In two of the past five years, Mr Hegarty's winter crop rotation has been affected by stripe rust, and to a lesser extent yellow spot.

This was a key consideration when deciding what variety of wheat to plant this year.

"I've found Baxter to perform well in good and very tough years; it is also a medium-quick variety.

"It's an old variety that doesn't have the best foliar disease package and that's the reason why I wanted to try the Suntop.

"Suntop has a similar maturity with a better foliar disease and all-round disease package."

Yellow spot and crown rot were both fungal pathogens, he said.

Stripe rust infection was more dependent on the weather conditions, he said, and on the central Darling Downs "we tend to get it after western growers".

"It tends to occur further out in the western wheat-growing areas first and a lot of spores get transferred on the wind.

"So if there is a big infection out in the western areas we are likely to get it, but at a later date."

In terms of disease, Mr Hegarty said he was worried about crown rot this season.

"Simply because the crops are doing it pretty tough from lack of moisture at the moment and crown rot tends to show its symptoms when crops have a reasonably good start to the season and a tough, dry finish."

Mr Hegarty previously worked full-time as an agronomist for a farming company in the area. When his parents retired, the opportunity arose for him to try his hand at farming while continuing to work part-time as an agronomist on a consultancy basis.

The variability of weather systems is something all farmers suffer, but he said the future of agriculture still looked bright. "For those who are switched on and astute operators, I think the future looks okay.

"Most people are doing the best they can with the things they have control over."

The wait is on for planting rain, and if it comes, he intends to plant the vast percentage of his remaining 200ha with sorghum.

"There are many people in my area who took the opportunity to sow sorghum in the first week of September.

"I considered it too cool and I didn't think my country was wet enough, so I thought I'd wait for another opportunity, which I hope turns up soon."

The story Cracks in Pampas prospects first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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