As the cropping part of Andrew Bennett’s mixed-farm near Bordertown continues to grow on the back of market trends, canola is playing an increasingly vital weed control role.
Andrew, wife Tiffany, and father Ross run 2200-hectare property “Bendulla”, at Mundulla.
The program now sits at 900ha, including 380ha of cereals, 380ha of vetch, lupins and beans, 95ha of canola and 45ha of grazing cereals.
The livestock component consists of 250 stud and beef cattle (Poll Hereford), and 1800 sheep (Merino and crossbred) for wool and prime lamb.
“Fifteen years ago canola was a sideline crop to feed the animals,” Mr Bennett said.
“Now it’s a strategic tool to control weeds, in particular ryegrass. We get the root disease break and grass control in cereals like milling oats and barley.”
Last season his canola plant was 90ha of retained Crusher TT seed and a 5ha plot of Hyola 559TT for evaluation.
Despite dismissing 2015 as the second-worst year on record due to no subsoil moisture and a 35 per cent drop in rainfall, his canola emerged relatively unscathed.
“We’re usually a 464mm annual rainfall area but that dropped to 250mm. Growing season rainfall was 200mm.
“The long-season crops like legumes got belted and oats got touched up by frost.
“Our hybrid triazine canola yielded 900kg/ha, while the open pollinated canola yielded 600kg/ha in an otherwise disappointing year.
“Looking at flowering length alone, the hybrid flowered for 10 days longer than the OP. In a normal season I would have no doubt it would have an even larger yield advantage. It also dealt well with massive moisture stress.
“I think the only thing that saved us was our red sandy loam soils, because the area’s black cracking country was not so good.”
Mr Bennett began planting canola on May 20, seeding the hybrid at 2.5kg/ha and the OP at 3.5kg/ha with a 9m Bourgault 8810 air seeder attached to a CASE IH 9380 tractor.
To cut harvest costs in mid-November, they direct headed with a CASE IH 2388 combine harvester.
“In a good year we windrow the canola, but we’ve direct headed the last few years.”
He said one of the most important challenges now facing the family operation was adjusting to the changing climate.
“We have been slowly changing from a medium-high rainfall zone to more of a medium-low, Mallee climate.
“This means looking at shorter-season varieties and anything that offers the option for hay and grain. We might investigate graze and grain canola after seeing good results in the region.”
2016’s crop will be restricted by “super low inputs” until business confidence is built back up.