Make hay while sun shines

Drought provides some opportunities for croppers

100 Stories of Hope
STORED MOISTURE: Farmer and Elders Coonamble agronomist Alexander Deans said good management had allowed some farmers to get crops through to hay or grain.

STORED MOISTURE: Farmer and Elders Coonamble agronomist Alexander Deans said good management had allowed some farmers to get crops through to hay or grain.

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Good fallow management has provided opportunities for some Coonamble croppers.

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Good management along with timely falls has meant some Coonamble farmers have been able to capitalise on high hay prices while putting some ground cover back on their paddocks.

Farmer and Elders Coonamble agronomist Alexander Deans said while the Coonamble district in NSW remained solidly in drought, some cropping properties had been able to either bale hay or even go through to harvest grain this year.

"In terms of grain we are a lot better off then other areas, you don't have to go far from the Coonamble district and it is diabolical, this year is much better than last year," he said

"This year is much better than last year. People have capitalised on the October to December rainfall, which about 60 per cent of the district got, as well as the early autumn break of about three inches, plus the one or two little falls in season. But it is patchy, and you can see the guys who have managed their fallows well. It really stood out this year."

Mr Deans said the best crops were to the west with storm fronts delivering up to 100 millimetres of planting rain.

"They are probably the best crops in the district, a lot of them went to hay as there was some big biomass but not a lot of moisture left to finish the crop," he said.

Mr Deans said while cutting a grain crop for hay was always a tough decision, with a tight finish on the horizon it had paid off for some croppers, with high hay prices making the decision easier.

"Without rain forecast it became a management decision. While some of the crops had the moisture to set themselves up well they may have only come in at up to 1.2 tonne of grain a hectare," he said.

"It was a matter of making the call and capitalising on a hay market that was $400 to $450 a tonne at the time."

Mr Deans said while those who had managed to retain stubble and manage their fallow weeds had the highest fallow water efficiency, storing enough to benefit the next crop, many farmers had to deal with bare paddocks due to either breakdown of existing stubble, particularly when the last crop was chickpeas, or because they had run stock across the country.

"The guys who haven't taken their foot off the pedal have done well, it was obviously hard last year because the mixed farming operators were wearing both hats, so there were some hard decisions made and they removed the ground cover," he said.

"So what we did was carry out a lot of deep-ripping on any country that was bare, which isn't generally the done thing, but that country really stood out this year purely because it was able to capture rain through the fallows.

"It was a management tool we had to use to get infiltration rates up, because fallow efficiency was basically down to zero per cent, there was no ground cover and the country was beginning to blow."

Mr Deans said there were significant lessons farmers could take from this drought into their future management.

"They have to be more careful with their ground cover, the guys wearing two hats need to draw a line in the sand," he said.

"We battle with that on our farm, but you need to retain ground cover so you can capture moisture, the less ground cover the more run-off you can expect."

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