Mark Jarvis with a forage rape crop. The plant's long tap root is ideal for drying out wet subsoils.

Managing moisture with spring cropping

Southern farmers are finding various grain and fodder spring and summer crops are working well within their rotation.

FOR WOMBELANO, Victoria, farmer Mark Jarvis, spring and summer cropping presents a way of managing waterlogging risk.

Mr Jarvis, who farms in the southern Wimmera with wife Sally and parents Hugh and Sue, said in his high rainfall zone environment winter waterlogging was often a larger risk factor than lack of rainfall, normally the major focus for Aussie grain growers.

This year was a prime example with the Jarvises recording a very wet May followed by another period of heavy rainfall through July and August, leading to washed out crops.

Mr Jarvis said spring cropping was a means of trying to generate an income from these failed paddocks.

This year he has planted fodder crops on failed lupin crops, along with one paddock of winter canola, sown in October last year for harvest in November of this year.

He said so far he was happy with spring cropping program and was hopeful it may be a semi-permanent part of the rotation, according to seasonal conditions.

“It’s a good way of drying the soil profile out for the following year’s plant along with providing good quality sheep feed.”

In terms of the winter canola, he said he was experimenting and hoped the concept worked.

“A lot of the time the problem with canola is getting it established before the cold and wet winter kicks in.

“This way the plant is there and ready when the break hits and you can avoid some of those problems with establishment, along with providing summer, and hopefully autumn, grazing.”

As well as the canola, Mr Jarvis has forage rape and a small amount of forage sorghum in this year.

“We only planted the sorghum on the really wet parts of a washed-out paddock but it certainly looks very impressive, there’s plenty of biomass there.”

Forage sorghum has thrived in the southern Wimmera this year in spite of minimal in-crop rain.

However, it is the winter canola that is most exciting for him.

Even though it is not a cheap crop, at $30 a kilogram, sown at 3kg to the hectare, Mr Jarvis believes it could make canola a more reliable option in the area.

“Given the price of seed if you can avoid resowing paddocks then there is a clear benefit just there, let alone the other benefits.”

He said the forage crops were doing a good job in drying out the soil profile before they were sprayed out prior to the conventional winter cropping program.

In particular, Mr Jarvis said long term they could fit in well in some of the wetter paddocks, allowing a winter plant with less risk of waterlogging.

The crops have all survived well in spite of minimal in-crop rainfall.

“There wasn’t a massive amount of spring rain, but the crops have pushed down into the subsoil moisture,” Mr Jarvis said.

The southern Wimmera region has a long history of spring cropping, however it fell out of favour during the Millenium Drought.

“We found we were getting away with cropping in paddocks that traditionally get a bit too wet, but the wheel has turned again in the last few years and some paddocks are just too wet to winter crop in certain cases.

Even using raised beds, as the Jarvis family does over their cropping ground, there is still the likelihood of late winter yield loss due to water logging more years than not.

“Spring cropping gives us a chance to generate an income from the paddock, it is also good in terms of weed management as we can attack those later germinations of ryegrass.”

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