TRIAL RESULTS: Meningie Platinum Ag agronomist Matt Howell in a crop of Corson Z71 maize, overlooking Lake Alexandrina.

New options trialed in Coorong cropping

THE goal to get more productivity and profitability from crop rotations has led farmers in the Meningie area to look at new options.

THE goal to get more productivity and profitability from crop rotations has led farmers in the Meningie area to look at new options.

Meningie Platinum Ag agronomist Matt Howell was awarded the Agricultural Bureau of SA Rural Youth Bursary in 2016 to study the potential of high value crops.

As part of his study, he toured Tas, western Vic and New Zealand to learn more about what alternative crops were available and how they might translate to the Meningie region.

He has also been working with six farmers near Narrung to make the most of existing irrigation infrastructure.

The area, which supported up to 60 dairies in the mid-1990s, only had 14 remaining, leading to significant land-use change.

“We’re turning pasture country into cropping country,” he said.

Mr Howell said the focus has been on increasing summer cropping and extending the season for winter crops.

Last year, farmers along the Narrung Peninsula trialled wheat and canola under irrigation.

Mr Howell said they had achieved their target of eight tonnes a hectare in their first year, using early May-sown Trojan wheat.

Using that as a “learning experience”, he said the goal for this winter was 10t/ha. 

They also had success with canola, with crops sown in mid-June reaping 3.5t/ha.

He said broadacre crops in the district usually achieved 4t/ha for wheat and 2t/ha for canola.

A paddock of Scope barley reapt at 7.5t/ha.

“That was without any special treatment, just having access to water,” he said.

“To double everything and use pivot to finish is a bit out of our wheelhouse but we’re trying to pick it up quickly.”

They are also exploring more summer crop options.

“We’ve got new options hitting SA all the time,” he said.

“We’ve been doing the economic work on the production of different crops.

“When we’ve worked out the costs, what we can potentially make and the local issues – it either makes us really excited to try a crop or it knocks it on the head pretty quickly.”

Some of the options considered include poppies and industrial hemp, both of which were recently permitted to be grown in SA, as well as grain sorghum.

Mr Howell said strong regional winds could create issues for poppy production but trial work was being done with hemp, particularly in south-west Vic, that he was “watching with interest”.

“We’re a long way from traditional markets so freight is the killer,” he said.

“The focus has been on doing as much as we can with the equipment we’ve got and the markets we’ve got.”

This year they have trialled 60 hectares of silage-specific maize variety, Corson Z71, sown in the first week of December.

Last week the corn had reached 1.82 metres in parts and was expected to reach 3.65m by harvest.

“Crops can take months to grow in winter but at this time of year you can see them grow nearly daily,” he said.

Mr Howell said the variety seemed to yield about half a tonne to 1t a hectare better than traditional grazing corn, with higher energy.

This year, the maize will be harvested and incorporated into a total mixed ration for a dairy production, with the energy comparable to wheat.

Soil moisture probes and weather monitoring stations track evaporation to match water to the crop needs, with 8 megalitres budgeted but the crop unlikely to use the full amount. 

Other crops include forage turnip variety Pasja 2, which will produce about four to five months worth of high protein feed.

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