Northampton growers inspired by Victorian wheat results

For many winter croppers looking to plant a new variety, the first step is to visit the National Variety Trials website, talk to an agronomist or see how the neighbour’s crop fared.

But in Northampton grower Scott Drage’s case, it was what was happening on the other side of the country that first piqued his interest.

Mr Drage read about a dryland crop of Trojan wheat yielding 10t/ha at a Southern Farming Systems trial at Westmere, Victoria, in 2014.

With Northampton’s annual rainfall average of 478mm comparable to Westmere’s 541mm, he thought it was worth trying.

“We saw the article about what happened over east with that dryland 10 tonne Trojan crop, which was just crazy,” he said.

Scott, who runs 3100ha cropping property Hillcrest with wife Jackie and son Amery, then talked to his agronomist about Trojan before planting some in 2015 to bulk up for a full scale planting of 1000ha.

“We saw it released for WA in 2015, so we got a tonne of it to see what would happen.”

Mr Drage said Hillcrest’s previous wheat record was set in 2003 when Wyalkatchem produced an average of 5t/ha.

“On the heavy country, the Trojan yielded 5.5t/ha average, and even 5t/ha for the stuff that didn’t germinate until later May.

“Most of the crop was planted on the farm’s best paddocks, while some was sown to the sandplain after lupins in 2015, of which most went ASW at 9.5 to 10pc protein. A couple of loads went APW.

“We were fertilising for what we thought was going to be a three to four tonne crop, but we didn’t expect it to go over five tonne. No one is going to fertilise for those yields when we’ve never had them before.”

He said there were up to 600 tillers per square metre when doing counts with Amery.

“The tillers were just amazing.

“What we also liked was the size of the flag. It produced a lot of biomass.”

The program at Hillcrest includes 1700ha of wheat, 1000ha of canola and 400ha of lupins, with the odd chickpea paddock as an opportunity crop.

“On the sand we obviously just do a wheat/lupin rotation. We are growing some canola on sand which we haven’t done for quite a while, with Roundup Ready varieties now – we’ll give that a try.”

Paddock preparation for winter began on April 13 when they deep ripped the soil 6.6m wide and 450mm deep, removing the hard pan created from mouldboarding.

Mr Drage said the aim was to start seeding about mid-April, with Trojan the first variety going in.

“We started sowing Trojan into lupin and canola stubble on April 27, then planted Mace in the first week of May.

“Generally long season wheats can be too long for up here, but we thought we’d give it a try. Being longer than Mace, we didn’t think it was an issue, as there’s only about a week difference in flowering.”

It was sown at 80kg/ha on 30cm row spacings with a John Deere 1870 air-hoe drill on a paired row system for better plant population, tillering and weed competition.

This places the seed on a shelf each side of the furrow with the fertiliser placed mainly in a 2.5cm band between and below the two seed rows, effectively giving a plant spacing of 23cm.

The fertiliser program consisted of 80kg/ha AgStar Extra treated with Impact, then 120kg/ha of NS51.

Some of it got 40L of Flexi N at the first node stage on June 24.

Mr Drage said despite no follow up rain, the wheat was able to hang on.

“The Trojan sat there for a month with no rain. Some of it didn’t really germinate until the end of May, but still yielded as good as the rest of it.”

The crop received an adequate 8mm of rain on May 22, and a better fall of 50mm in early June.

Spraying for disease included one spray of Cogito fungicide on July 24.

Trojan began flowering in early August and began to finish in late September, with harvest starting on October 21. All crops were off by December 7 2016.

“It was really easy to harvest due to a more open head compared to other varieties. The header just glides through it.”

Mr Drage said 70pc of the wheat crop in 2017 will be Trojan.

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