New tech for 10,000ha North Coast cropping program

Maintaining a
profitable broadacre cropping industry in Australia can be tough amid variable
weather and rising input costs.

Some
growers are meeting the challenge by adopting new technologies and improved
plant varieties to get the greatest efficiencies and yield from their land.

While
many farmers have been utilising GPS-based Precision Agriculture (PA)
technologies for a while, a growing number (just over 40 per cent according to
the CSIRO) have taken up Variable Rate Technology (VRT) for applying
chemicals.

VRT
enables them to account for and tailor applications to the change in soil type
and conditions across a tract of land.

According
to the CSIRO, some growers may realise up to a $50/ha advantage using VRT.

One
farming company that has taken up the technology is the Cosgrove Farming Co. on
Western Australia’s North Coast.

“Our latest
venture has been VRT on the seeder to vary compound fertiliser and potash by
zone rather than a blanket application,” Geoff Cosgrove said.

The operation
runs 13,000 hectares for cropping and livestock across seven properties on country
that varies greatly – stretching from Mingenew (sandplain country) in the
north, Arrino (loamy) to the east and Arrowsmith East (loamy) in the west.

Mr Cosgrove
said their other efficiency-boosting practices included minimum till,
auto-steer machinery and controlled traffic.

“We practice
minimum tillage, with deep ripping required on some of the sandplain country to
open up the soil so the plants can draw water from deeper. This can add up to an extra tonne per hectare
in yield in cereals.

“All of our
fleet is auto-steer and we are using controlled traffic associated with
tramlining to reduce compaction.”

Geoff farms
with his wife Fiona, parents Gary and Alison, and brothers Owen and Andrew.

The cropping
program typically includes 6000ha of wheat, 2000ha of canola and 2000ha of
lupins, with the remaining land used for 2000 Merino breeding ewes and 150
Black Angus breeder cattle, or chemical fallow.

Geoff handled
most of the wheat program last season, overseeing 3000ha of Cobra, 1000ha of
Wyalkatchem, 1000ha of Calingiri and 1000ha of Mace.

High
yielding, early-mid season, AH variety Cobra has been part of the program since
2011.

“It has been
our main variety since bulking up in 2011 and will remain so into the future.”

They started
seeding wheat on May 15 using a John Deere with 1830 bar, stiletto points and
boots, and finished two weeks later.

Despite crops
bleeding yields in some areas of WA last season due to tough conditions, the
Cosgroves were content with the yields from their wheat and canola.

A period of
extreme heat a few months from harvest cut up to a tonne per hectare in wheat
yields and 800kg/ha in canola yields.

“Rainfall was
a bit below our average of 350mm, sitting at about 320mm, but it was the hot
spell in August, where we had 35 degree days, 5 days in a row, that threw us a
bit.”

Harvest began
on October 15 with a John Deere 9770 direct header on canola first then wheat,
finishing up on December 1.

“Cobra was
miles ahead of anything else. We saw
6t/ha in the best areas.”

Their average
for the wheat program was 2.3t/ha, with Cobra coming out best at 2.5t/ha average.

Mr Cosgrove
said the family will continue to employ spatially-aware technologies along with
high yielding canola and wheat varieties to improve their bottom line.

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