The use of dual-purpose cropping on Mayfield Farm near Oberon in New South Wales has restored the farm from a “dustbowl” to a productive business with record-breaking canola yields.
Farm Manager Peter Brooks attributes the yield – 7.16 tonnes / hectare – to the practise of dual-purpose cropping and favourable growing conditions. Mr Brooks sowed Canola variety Hyola970CL in 2020, allowing lambs to graze on the crop for eight weeks during winter at a stocking rate of 20 lambs per hectare.
The system was designed in conjunction with the CSIRO, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and agronomy consultancy, Delta Agribusiness.
“We’ve had great conditions in 2020, but achieving this yield didn’t happen overnight – it was a culmination of 15 years of working with CSIRO to improve our systems,” said Mr Brooks.
“We followed what the science said we should do to improve our enterprise, and it all came together last year.”
CSIRO farming systems researcher Dr John Kirkegaard said that the fact the crop was grazed provided an additional benefit to the crop yield.
“An event like this is a mixture of bold science meeting excellent agronomy, and brave farming to push the envelope,” he said.
“Grazing the crop in winter provides incomes early in the season, and when managed carefully comes at no cost to grain yield.”
“But to achieve significant grazing and a record-breaking yield is remarkable and a credit to Peter, his on-site management Troy Fitzpatrick and the rest of their team.”
Ideal growing conditions meant the crop recovered well from the early-season grazing.
“Dual-purpose crops also help farms to manage their operations during times of drought, due to the extra winter feed which forms a significant part of farm revenue,” said James Cheetham from Delta Agribusiness.
“What we’ve found exciting from an agronomic perspective is that this occurred in a region where canola isn’t very common, and it could provide inspiration for a lot more farmers to from dual-purpose canola.”
Research found that dual-purpose canola could provide a financial benefit of $100-$200 per hectare through increased grain yield and a reduction in supplementary feed costs.
Grain and graze wheat crops show strong financial benefit
CSIRO-led research across dual-purpose wheat showed a potential bottom line boost of $1000 per hectare. Less than 10 per cent of the farms included in the study returned less than a grain-only wheat crop.
“The median increase in net returns from grazing was 25pc and in one third of cases, net returns increased by 75pc or more,” said Lindsay Bell, the Agriculture and Food principal research scientist at CSIRO.
“In the 87 canola grazing experiments returns were somewhat less, median 17pc, due to less grazing and higher grain-value and so increased economic risks from yield reductions.”
The study showed that long-season wheat cultivars sown before April were the best option for farmers considering dual-cropping, with early sowing needed to increase the opportunity for grazing.
Dr Bell encouraged farmers to consider the economic implications of grazing grain crops to determine the acceptable level of grain yield loss.
“In many cases, especially where the feed is being used to fatten or finish lambs or cattle, it is possible that accepting a grain yield penalty makes the most economic sense,” he said.
“However, managing these potential trade-offs to optimise profit will be influenced by the relative value of grain or livestock feed in that season as well as your location.”