Another two visits today. The first was to Rob Egerton-Warburton, who farms 5,000ha near Kojonup. He always thought that a career in IT was going to be his future, and his brother would be the farmer. After travelling he came back home and found he enjoyed it, and for a while the two of them farmed together – and bought some more land. After a few years the brother decided to go and work as a computer programmer, and left Rob to do the farming. Funny how these things work out.
The farm is split roughly 50:50 between livestock and sheep at any one point, which Rob reckons is about the sweet spot for profitability. Like a lot of Aussie farmers he thinks that you get more from a mixed farm than the sum of the individual parts. It’s a lot of work, but amazing that they can crop 2,500ha and look after 13,000 head of sheep with only two full time employees.
On one new bit of land, which was very unproductive, they spread lime, and then ploughed it in. Into this they drilled lucerne, and left it for a few years to be used as grazing for the sheep. Now that the soil has been improved, Rob can drill wheat directly into it when the lucerne goes dormant over winter, and he is finding that he needs no extra fertiliser at all to get the same yields as his other crops – that’s a saving of around 100-150kg of urea, which is pretty significant.
There are a couple of interesting things happening here with the actual crop drilling. One is that Rob is going against the trend of having wider rows – most people I have seen are at 300mm. He is planning on going down to about half of this, which is more European. The reasons are increased yield and also better weed competition for the ryegrass. There’s a lot of conflicting information on this subject, I think it really needs on farm trials to see what works where. The other technique he’s using is to sow the rows east-west when possible. The idea here is that it allows less light to get down between the rows and on to the weeds. He claims a 5-10% increase in yield, and a 50% reduction in weeds. Big numbers!
Next up I headed back north again, almost to where I started the day with the Pascoe’s. Rob Rex is another sheep/cropping farmer, I won’t go into all the details again. They grow a few lupins, which is a good crop, but somewhat risky with the climate. After harvest the sheep are let out onto the stubbles. Apparently 20ha of lupin stubble will maintain 4,000 sheep for a month; I find this pretty incredible. Surely there must be a lot of losses from the combine to provide that much food?
This is the first cover crop I’ve seen in Australia. There was a bit of spare moisture, and a degraded pasture that needed a little refreshing, so Rob (Rex) whipped out the drill and put in some warm season plants – sorghum and lablab, which is a new one on me. The lablab is a member of the bean family which has been brought over from Africa. It seemed to be growing pretty well, although it had no nodules at all. I wonder if perhaps it needs inoculating with a specific rhizobium which isn’t naturally present in these soils.
This is also one of the few farms I’ve found which has got some perennial warm season grasses to grow in the grazing paddocks. There is a common theme though everywhere that they seem to be successful: long rest times between grazings. No brainer.