In what was Ararat’s fourth-driest year on record, farmer Tim Barr was surprised by the high canola yields he harvested in December 2015 at family property “Yallgatta”, in the Western Districts of Victoria.
His combine harvester showed an average reading of 1.5 tonnes per hectare across the 520ha oilseed crop, which consisted of two open pollinated triazine varieties (300ha and 212ha), and one hybrid triazine (8ha).
The hybrid – a trial area of Hyola 650TT – was the standout, hitting 2t/ha.
Mr Barr runs the 2000ha mixed-farm with father Noel and brother Simon, cropping 1600ha of wheat, canola, barley, oats and beans, and running 1600 mixed-breed ewes and 50 Hereford-Angus breeders.
He said it was a welcome result given their winter crops received no spring rainfall, putting the results down to a mixture of soil type, geography and varietal choice.
“Some of our cereals didn’t do too well but the canola still managed to produce the goods,” he said.
“Crops on the heavier black clay soils did a lot better than those on the lighter grey loam country.
“Yields were very patchy throughout the west and the state as a whole. In one area you’d have decent crops and the neighbouring area would be struggling.
“The hybrids have been out-yielding OPs for some time now, so that’s something we decided to look into. There’s also been a swing to GM canola in parts of the state, so we’re always keen to investigate new options.”
Ararat received 410 millimetres for the year. In contrast, the annual median average is 600mm.
It has dropped below the 2015 measurement three times on record – in 1982 (302mm), 1994 (394mm) and 2006 (340mm) – according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
Mr Barr seeded the canola on April 21 with a John Deere 8410 tractor and Gason air seeder on 30 centimetre row spacings.
The hybrid seed was sown at a lower rate of 2kg/ha, while the OPs were seeded at 4kg/ha.
Using a Case 2388 header, he windrowed the crop in late November before finishing harvest on December 24.
According to Mr Barr, the golden crop has grown in popularity due to its ability to slot into a cropping sequence and be beneficial for weed control, making consecutive wheat crops more profitable, and in some cases becoming a cash crop in its own right.
“For as long as I can remember we have grown canola. When I was a kid we only planted one or two paddocks, but as I’ve gotten older we’ve grown a lot more.”