Managing heavy stubbles

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With October upon us, the fields are looking as green as ever and farmers are planning for harvest. 

While many areas have been inundated with rain, Dale Grey from Agriculture Victoria explained at the recent BCG Main Field Day that the models are indicating it would be reasonable to expect a dry harvest period. 

Almost all crops across the region have an abundance of biomass which can pose some issues at harvest, and for next year’s crop. 

Issues can arise when paddocks are left with large stubble loads including sowing into large amounts of stubble, poor or patchy germination, and soil health concerns.

Conditions like the present were last seen in 2010, when bumper crops brought challenges not seen in the previous dry seasons. 

Farmers are already starting to consider these issues and have learnt from their 2010 experience.

Grain Producers Australia’s chairman and Rupanyup farmer Andrew Weidemann said farmers were better now at managing stubble loads than they have been in the past.

“Each farmer has their own way of doing things that takes into consideration the issues of their property,” he said. 

There are many challenges farmers face at harvest time in regards to stubble loads – harvest height, harvest speed, material throughput, residue spreading width, moisture content of residue, weather conditions and thinking about the best conditions for subsequent crop.  

When considering the height at which a crop is going to be cut, timeliness and efficiency need to be taken into account.

Cutting higher will result in faster harvesting times, but preparations need to be made to manage that stubble after harvest (eg grazing or burning). While harvesting lower will result in shorter stubble height, harvest will take longer and fuel consumption will be higher.

With these considerations it is best to determine the most cost effective method for your property.

Decisions and planning need to occur soon in preparation for what is shaping up to be a busy harvest. 

Effective communication with contractors at this time is paramount. It is especially prevalent if you plan to vary your current methods to ensure that contractors are capable and have the equipment to do so.  

Authorities are also expressing caution with the higher pulse production this year which results in a higher header fire risk. Farmers are advised to ensure they understand the risks and put in place appropriate strategies.

Lentils provide the additional consideration of possibly cover cropping over summer, because of the need to harvest lower to the ground removing significant amounts of stubble. 

While the wet harvest in 2010 resulted in a stop-start program, the outlook for the 2016 harvest period is average. 

Many in the Wimmera and Mallee will be varying their methods this year according to their experiences during, and following, the 2010 harvest. 

There is the opportunity to bail straw not normally available that can be used on farm or as another income source. 

Burning is also an option that can assist in reducing weed and pest burdens, but can come as a cost of lost nutrients from the system.

Mr Weidemann said he would be incorporating these are two methods into his preparations, especially in his wheat crops. 

“The issue of large stubble loads is not as prevalent in this year’s barley as they are dwarf varieties,” he said. 

While cutting stubble high now to ensure timeliness and efficiency, Mr Weidemann will be making further stubble height considerations early next year when 2017 crop decisions are made. 

“If we are going to be planting more canola next year we will need to reduce stubble loads to reduce the effect of shading on seedlings,” he said.

“While if we are going to grow more pulses the need to reduce stubble height is not as necessary.”

Farmers are urged to start thinking, planning and discussing with advisors how best to handle large stubble loads on their property.

You can find more information about managing stubbles via the GRDC-funded ‘Stubble Project’ website at: www.thestubbleproject.wordpress.com/

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