Early-sown dual-purpose crops are on the radar again this autumn through reduced forage quantity and quality in most improved pasture paddocks.
We’re seeing an increasing trend in long-season crops like winter wheats, barley or oats. This is certainly not a new development and in this article we discuss how BioAg supports this well-regarded dual-purpose cropping practice across the livestock and grain sectors.
There’s no doubt that at the moment most graziers are very short of feed.
If you’re in this position then the facts are simple: you need to sow in the earliest window to get the maximum yield of feed per hectare into the winter.
Your summer soil tests should form the basis of your nutrient decisions. Looking back at that soil test data, you’ll be able to maximise your efficient use of available resources.
This will help you get the nutrients right for your situation and could help reduce the effect of a late frost in spring, through provision of crop nutrition for later tiller production.
Plan to be ready to sow, but have a backup plan.
Grazing and grain in harmony
Research by CSIRO developed best management practice to maximise grazing dry matter, while minimising the effects of grazing on wheat grain production.
In this article we draw on an excellent article in the GRDC Ground cover publication ‘Rules of thumb for grazing cereals’
The productivity of grazing cereal is strongly linked to understanding farm soil types, and carefully selecting fields based on key criteria. Here we discuss the benefits of selecting the right paddock and the ideal variety then managing crop and stock for the best results.
Paddock selection and sowing time
Prepare paddocks well in advance of sowing to ensure maximum establishment of young plants. Preparation includes controlling weeds, retaining soil moisture where possible and managing stubble loads.
Again, soil testing is the best place to start, to get the best idea of any chemical or structural production constraints.
Tip: Before planting, encourage soil microbial population and diversity by applying 3 litres per hectare of Soil & Seed via furrow injection or boom spray. This accelerates conversion of residues into humus and aids moisture conservation around the seedling in juvenile stages.
Choice of what cereal cultivar to grow is an agronomic decision. However, as a guide, long-season or true winter types will be a more flexible fit into the dual-purpose system. Seeding rates will be determined by moisture levels in the paddock.
Wheat can often be a good choice, because of its higher value.
To quote directly from a recent GRDC article ‘Rules of thumb for grazing cereals’: “A CSIRO trial at Goulburn, NSW, from 2009 to 2011 found grazing dual-purpose wheat could deliver 2600 DSE grazing days/ha while delivering 6.4t/ha in yield at the end of the season. CSIRO and NSW Department of Primary Industries research indicates that gross margins for dual-purpose wheat at the paddock level are about $100-$400/Ha more than a grain-only enterprise.“
Many Riverina growers of wheat cultivars like Wedgetail, and more recently, Kittyhawk, have benefited from the longer season virtues of growing high quality milling-grade grains with strictly managed grazing operations.
Depending on soil test results, phosphorus (as BioAgPhos) and Aglime &/or gypsum, are all best spread pre-plant.
Microbial digested BioAgPhos is 100% bioavailable and rejuvenates natural soil fertility - offering reduced lockup under the forage crop, but also improves microbial activity to ‘unlock’ previously applied nutrient.
An on-farm trial conducted by central NSW lamb and grain grower, Wayne Brabrook, showed conclusively that a revolutionary biological soil nutrition program represents a real and profitable alternative to conventional techniques.
After adopting the program, Wayne saw the gross margins from his lamb fattening and cropping enterprises soar.
Ten years later, and still using BioAg products showed the remarkable improvement in soil health continuing.
Healthy soil on a pasture paddock where BioAg products have been applied.
Tip: Some nitrogen is best applied at sowing to ensure good early plant growth and forage quantity. Consider a programmed application of sulphate of ammonia in biological systems prior to planting.
Discuss with your BioAg area manager.
According to the ‘Rules of thumb’ article, grazing can start as soon as cereal plants are well anchored, when the amount of forage exceeds 1.0 tonne per hectare. Use the ‘tug test’ to check anchoring. In good conditions, that’s normally 6-8 weeks after plant emergence.
Varieties sown in autumn without a winter habit need to be grazed to prevent stem elongation. However, the decision about when to start grazing is much less important than the decision about when to stop. Grain head development occurs very early in the fully tillered stage. Tillering is complete when the first node is detected at the base of the main stem.
If grazed beyond node development, tiller death can occur.
While a cereal in ideal conditions may produce more tillers, forage & grain production will be affected adversely.
Grazing long-seasoned cereals can be a major contributor to weed control in crops over winter and spring. This leads to improved water use efficiency over grain fill.
CSIRO trials show grazed Mackellar wheat can yield 33% more grain than ungrazed, attributed partially due to higher weed competition in the ungrazed crop.
Stocking rates should be balanced to prevent underuse or overgrazing of crops.
Tip: CSIRO research quoted in the Groundcover article suggests that a useful ‘rule of thumb’ is to graze with about 1000kg of stock liveweight per hectare. This could be, for example, 33 sheep at 30kg each or 3 cattle at 330kg each. In southern NSW trials, this rate of stocking has resulted in about one month of added grazing.
How BioAg can help
To maximise the productivity of your dual purpose cereal we can diagnose in-crop deficiencies and provide remedial foliar product and management recommendations.
Our qualified and certified agronomists and Area Managers will be happy to talk to you about your requirements.
References and additional reading
‘Rules Of Thumb For Grazing Cereals’, Ground Cover Issue 109, 03 Mar 2014 | Author: Denna Lush
Productive Dual Purpose Winter Wheats – DPI NSW AgNote 438
Grain & Graze 3 www.grainandgraze3.com.au
Pictured at top of page: Andrew Forrest of Columbia Park, Corobimilla - a BioAg customer since 2001