Forage rape's deep tap root is useful for drying out excess subsoil moisture.

Farmers have a spring in their step in southern Australia

Summer and spring cropping could be the next big thing in high rainfall zone areas in southern Australia.

IT IS in no danger of challenging the Darling Downs or the Liverpool Plains as the nation’s premier spring and summer cropping region, but farmers straddling the southern end of the Victoria – SA border are thrilled with their foray into sowing crop well into the second half of the year.

A series of washed out winter crops led to one of the largest plants of spring and summer crops in the high rainfall zone region, known as the Green Triangle, for over a decade – and the preliminary results may mean spring and summer planting becomes a more regular feature for many growers.

Even a searing January, which has seen the average maximum temperature in nearby Horsham hit 34 degrees, has failed to dramatically impact yield potential.

James Heffernan, Landmark South East agronomist based in Naracoorte, said given the area’s propensity for winter waterlogging, spring and summer cropping had the potential to be a useful tool.

And while perennial spring sown suspects such as barley and safflower have been very popular, Mr Heffernan said experiments with spring sown chickpeas were generating a lot of excitement leading into harvest.

“Chickpeas were planted, particularly in South Australia around places like Bool Lagoon, and they look really good at present,” Mr Heffernan said.

“At present it looks like we could see yields of up to 1.5 tonnes a hectare, obviously we will see how they have fared with all the heat, but they look OK for now.”

“Even allowing for a price fall off that $1000 a tonne we saw in 2016, even if it comes back as low as $500/t, on gross margins at that level of yield they will compare well against winter pulse crops such as faba beans.”

“It will depend on soil type and moisture holding capacity but for some growers they might be a really good fit, the plants can cope with high temperatures so that is useful with our hot summers.

Mr Heffernan said there was the added benefit of lower risks of fungal disease and frost when planted late.

“You don’t have the moist conditions that lead to fungal disease and the flowering period is well past the frost window.”

“Obviously getting enough moisture is the key but they are a tough plant and look to be holding up well.”

Safflower is a more traditional spring-summer option in the region, and plantings of the oilseed are well up this season.

Mr Heffernan said farmers were looking both to generate an income and to dry out the soil profile for the upcoming winter plant with safflower.

So far, he said it was working.

“The crop is tough and has handled the heat well and the tap roots are pushing down and accessing subsoil moisture, so that is good.”

Mr Heffernan said safflower’s marketability could be an issue, but said this year prices were relatively strong.

“It’s been a good way to dry country out, it’s a cheap crop to plant, a little bit of starter fertilizer and a broadleaf spray and that’s been about it.”

Mark Jarvis, Wombelano, in Victoria, said he was using summer fodder crops for much the same purpose – drying out sodden country.

Forage sorghum has yielded a large amount of biomass in the southern Wimmera.

“We’ve planted some forage rape and with its deep tap root it has really got down and worked hard for moisture, while we’ve also had some good feed for sheep.”

He said he was surprised how well summer and spring crops had held up given the heat.

“They are obviously tough species and can get down and work hard for moisture because there hasn’t been much rainfall since they were planted in October.”

Mr Heffernan said he felt the region was well suited to spring and summer cropping.

“It’s something people used to do a lot of and then it probably fell out of favour a bit.

“If we are experiencing a wet start then people can definitely look to spring cropping as a lower risk option than planting a winter crop and having it washed out, especially on lower lying paddocks.”

Mr Jarvis said the benefits were more than simply drying out the profile.

“It can be pretty handy from a weed management point of view, you’ve got a chance to get a late season knockdown for late germinating weeds.”

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