Break crops and big profits: can we have both?

October 26, 2015


Trevor Syme and Advanta Seeds territory manager Steve Lamb in Trojan wheat.

While Bolgart grower Trevor Syme is preparing for a good canola harvest in November due to higher expected yields from his first hybrid sowing, it is the valuable weed control the crop provides in successive wheat crops that has him most excited.

Mr Syme said break crops had become vital to integrated weed management and sustained profitability.

“You might lose some money in the first year of planting a break crop, but I guarantee over a full rotation you’ll make more money,” he said.

“We use canola and lupins as our break crops to keep rotations ticking along, with canola going in every five years.”

This year the grower stepped up the fight against ryegrass, wild radish and brome grass after witnessing the decreasing efficacy of selective herbicides.

 “I had been growing open pollinated triazine tolerant varieties and retaining the seed, but with yields of 1.0-1.4 tonnes per hectare and grass selectives [herbicides] not working well anymore, I needed to try something different.

“This year I planted my first canola hybrid - 600ha of Hyola 525RT.  I went for the RT because of the wild radish burden.  It gives us the triazine option to target broadleaf and grass weeds and Roundup gives us the two-way hit.”

For the wheat crop he planted 1000ha of Mace, 400ha of Magenta and 24ha of Trojan to bulk up for next year.

Mr Syme said Mace was a staple variety and Trojan will be replacing Magenta soon.

“Trojan is well suited to earlier seeding like Magenta and it typically flowers 6-10 days later than Mace, making it suitable for seeding a week earlier so I can target higher yields through a longer season.”

He also planted 600ha of lupins, 750ha of barley and 170ha of cereal rye.

Trevor, his wife Renae, and daughters Kiera and Jaymi, farm 4000 hectare “Waddi Park”, midway between Bolgart and Goomalling, 130km northeast of Perth.

They crop 3600ha of the land in a five-year rotation of lupins/wheat/canola/wheat/barley, adhering to no-till practices with full stubble retention and controlled traffic.

Mr Syme is no stranger to innovation, being awarded the GRDC Australian Grain Grower of the year in 2013 for his work improving yields on the sandy soils plagued with non-wetting constraints through clay spreading, delving and spading.

Along with break crops and rotating herbicide groups, his IWM program includes pre and post-emergent timing and prevention of seed set using brown manuring and crop topping, along with harvest weed seed control such as narrow windrow burning.

“Windrow burning works best in canola because of the high heat that the oil produces.  It’s not so good with cereals because if everything catches fire it can leave paddocks bare and prone to erosion.”

However, this year he is moving to a chaff deck, which places weed seeds onto tramlines which are the most hostile part of the paddock as they have become very hard.

Doing this will “retain 100 per cent crop residue to improve soil health.”

On the weather front, Mr Syme said they had to sow the crops dry in late-April but rainfall had been good, if infrequent.

“We like to start sowing around April 20 and finish by the end of May, and we start whether it’s wet or dry. More often than not its dry and this year was no exception.

“We had an opening rain of 32mm on May 16, then nothing for four weeks until 38mm, then nothing again until 75mm in late July.  It’s been good rainfall but too far between drinks.”