Variable rate tech works on Cobra wheat crops
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 farm business that has taken up the technology is the Cosgrove Farming Company 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,” cropper 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.” Mr Cosgrove 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. Mr Cosgrove 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,” he said. Last year, the Cosgroves 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, five days in a row, that threw us a bit,” Mr Cosgrove said. 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,” he said. 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 spatiallyaware technologies along with high yielding canola and wheat varieties to improve their bottom line.
Grower Geoff Cosgrove (left) and Pacific Seeds territory manager Steve Lamb in a paddock of Cobra wheat.