Cropping

Rain brings hope and a personal incentive

By Sophie Baldwin

Things can turn on a dime.

Just ask Thyra cropper Luke Barlow.

Two weeks ago wind was gusting, red dust was swirling and conditions were probably about as tough as they could get at his property, about 40km north of Echuca.

The 1000ha of canola and vetch that were sown dry as part of this season’s management weren’t even guaranteed to get out of the ground.

But 10 days and 25mm of rain later the smile is back on Mr Barlow’s face, especially considering he has another 1200ha of wheat and barley to go.

‘‘The autumn break is the most anticipated rain because it gives the green light for the go-ahead of the season and on the map this one looked great,’’ Mr Barlow said.

‘‘We still have good soil temperature and we will get far more growth out of rain like this in May than we ever would in June or July.’’

While this rain is enough to get crops germinated, follow-up rains are still required.

‘‘There isn’t enough moisture in the ground for roots to get down,’’ Mr Barlow said.

‘‘Last year’s dry season took a lot of soil moisture out of the ground so follow-up rain is definitely needed.

‘‘It doesn’t have to be biblical though — five or 6mm each week will get things wet enough and away the crops will go.’’

Dry sowing is not new to Mr Barlow’s management, but what is new is going into a season without carryover water.

Normally there is some sort of allocation to carry over to reduce risk and finish off at least a portion of the crops in spring if it remains dry, but this year’s zero allocation in NSW put an end that.

However the dry conditions did make for easy sowing.

‘‘Canola is sown shallow, you barely scratch the surface and it went in so well. The soil was beautiful and friable despite the dry conditions,’’ he said.

‘‘We have a good solid rotation set up and if canola fails, it is a relatively clean crop for stock to eat.’’

Mr Barlow said while last season’s harvest was low, it was offset to some degree by the price paid and quality of his crop.

‘‘In the wash-up, 2018-19 wasn’t a total disaster.

‘‘We had some frosted canola which we were able to cut for hay and we were able to use the carryover water to irrigate our better crops.

‘‘The lessons you learn in tough times are the ones you don’t seem to forget.’’

Looking toward this season, Mr Barlow said the lack of water had taken a lot of the decision making away and he had just had to throw caution to the wind and run with it.

‘‘In some ways it has made things easier because the decisions have been taken away because this is where we are and this is what I will do.’’

One of the other decisions Mr Barlow has made is to run a kilometre for every millimetre of rain he tips out of his gauge from last Wednesday to Sunday.

He has even messaged meteorologist Jane Bunn with his intentions, receiving an encouraging reply from the popular television weather forecaster.

‘‘I don’t know whether it was the solitary confinement of sowing or the end of the triathlon season, but I need something to focus on over winter,’’ Mr Barlow said.

‘‘I was hoping we would get some big falls and once I posted my idea on Facebook, I received lots of encouraging responses from people offering to run a few kilometres with me.’’