Jo and Mark Langtry in a crop of Benito canola showing exceptional yield potential after a very dry winter in the northern Riverina. “We had an excellent germination, and it was probably the best start I can remember.”

Canola with potential yields

After coming through a dry winter, the 690 hectares of crops sown on "Currawong", Marrar by Mark and Jo Langtry have responded to recent decent falls of rain, and now look set to achieve better than expected yields.

The mixed farming operation features wheat, barley and canola in rotation with lupins as break crop and to fix soil nitrogen, and supported by a cow herd and some sheep. 

In the past week, nearly 50mm rain in two falls has been measured by Mr Langtry, and he said it has been most welcome and looks forward to a better harvest than he could have expected when looking over his farm a month ago.

He planted his canola on 16 April into reasonable soil moisture; a distinct change from last season where the crops were dry sown even though it turned out to be a wet season.

“That is the earliest I have ever sown, the moisture was spot on, we had everything ready and it was probably a pretty good decision,” he said.

“We had an excellent germination, and it was probably the best start I can remember.”

In common with many southern districts, winter was very cold and dry on the northern Riverina-based aggregation which has been in the Langtry family for two generations but they have been in the Marrar district for over one hundred years.

Mr Langtry said there was a very good carryover [of soil moisture] and because the crops were sown early and got a good start they now have the potential for a good yield after a tough growing season.

“This year the crops were established before it got cold and it has made a lot of difference,” he said.

Prior to recent falls, Mr Langtry had only recorded 275mm for the year and he thought his crops were looking better than they should for the rain recorded.

Looking over his winter crops toward the end of October, he noted they have only suffered minimal exposure to frost damage which is due to the higher elevation of the family farm, and cutting them for hay was never considered.

“It is the last case scenario for me, and this year it was never an option,” he said.

When making a comparison to this time last year, Mark Langtry acknowledges the crops on “Currawong”, Marrar are not as good because the winter rain had been less: obviously last season was so much wetter, but he has just completed a crop walk with his agronomist, and the outlook is better than expected.

“We both put figures on the crops and if we get another 20mm rain we will meet those figures,” he said.

Mr Langtry said he recognises his crops are benefiting from carry-over soil moisture, but is not certain how that can be measured, although he said the extra soil-moisture is due to the retention of stubble in his cropping paddocks.

“We have been retaining stubble for three or four years and that has really helped us this year,” he said.

“We have learnt a lot since the droughts; any weed which grows through the summer is a bad one, and retaining our moisture is crucial to our success.

“It is the only thing we can’t buy so we have to harvest it as best we can.” 

With stubble retention attracting a lot of research attention in recent years as a viable alternative to the traditional method of burning, Mr Langtry had been keeping close attention to the paddock and trial results.

Temora-based research facility Farmlink in association with Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the CSIRO has been investigating the ultimate benefits of stubble retention for many years. 

“I could see the benefits other farmers were achieving and with my agronomist I attended field days which were highlighting the successful outcomes,” Mr Langtry said.  

“The build-up of organic matter is helping with conserving our soil moisture and is also helping lift the health of our soil which must be of ultimate benefit for everyone.”