Weathering year of tests
It has been a case of déjà vu for Bute graingrower Wayne Krieg for the past couple of seasons, after mice and spring thunderstorms repeatedly impacted crop yields.
This season was no exception, as hail and wind damage in the first week of November caused about 30 per cent yield loss in 730 hectares of Hurricane and Blitz lentil crops.
Sowing a 2100 hectare rotation of wheat, barley and lentils with his brother Ashley Krieg and retired father Graham, Wayne hoped the loss would not increase as the 2017 season continued.
“It is difficult to know the full extent of damage,” he said.
”We have definitely had a loss at the end of the season for the past couple of years, I really hope it does not become a common occurrence.”
An entire paddock of lentils from the 2016 harvest could not be marketed through the Kriegs usual channels because of thunderstorm damage, so the lentils were sold to Laucke Feed Mill instead.
“We had off-coloured and swollen lentils because when hail hits the pod, it lets moisture get inside and turn it black,” Wayne said.
“The Blitz lentil variety split easily as well, as soon as they hit the harvester they start splitting during the process,” he said.
“By the time the crop goes through the harvester, the auger and then into a truck, they split each time.
“So we were lucky this season that the wheat was tough enough to handle to hail.”
So far lentil crops have reached 1.4 tonne/ha, slightly below average, but Wayne said considering the season he was pleased.
“It would be one of our driest seasons in about five years,” he said.
“In 2016 we averaged above 4t/ha and this year we are really hoping for 3t/ha.”
After 30 millimetres of rain at the end of April helped the Kriegs off to a good start for sowing on May 1, June and July brought little soil moisture and caused a delay in weed growth.
“Weeds were our biggest challenge,” Wayne said.
“Traditionally weeds pop up in June or July but because of a lack of rain it was not until we had finished our post-sowing crop spray and rainfall in August and September, that weeds grew and it was too late to spray,” he said.
A lucky break from pests and disease did come this season though and gave the Kriegs some reprieve in wheat and barley crops, but lentils had three insecticide sprays this season instead of the usual two.
“We have been growing lentils for 15 years and we have learned that an insecticide spraying regime every three and a half weeks helped to control most issues,” Wayne said.
“So although I have heard chickpeas are a great break crop and prices are definitely there, so are the diseases.”
Mice numbers were high at Bute this season and although they had become a reoccurring problem, according to Wayne Krieg he was no closer to understanding why the pest had increased.
Mr Krieg resowed 80 hectares of wheat and 200ha of lentils this year because of mice populations using new seed as a food source.
“Especially at sowing we noticed mice and we had to bait every paddock,” Mr Krieg said.
“The main trouble we had was in lentil crops that were sown into stubble because when we were checking for mice, some patches had no lentils and others were OK,” he said.
“There was no way we could have driven around in the tractor to pick and choose where to resow.”
Unfortunately, Mr Krieg said because mice were baited after sowing it gave plenty of time for populations to increase and survive.
Paddocks were baited up to four times, with the most recent application being eight weeks ago.
“On two wheat paddocks we could see the mice had been chewing the bottom of the plant. There was damage in others but we couldn't justify it with the cost of bait and the plane,” he said.
Mr Krieg said mice numbers had increased in the region and next year he would bait prior to sowing.
“The thunderstorms last year had put a lot of grain on the ground but paddocks with no hail damage had some of the highest mice numbers,” he said.