Growing profit from the ground up

Winter-active lucerne transforms farming operation

Case study: Ken Schmidt
Location: Chincilla, Queensland
Property size: Two properties: Nine Mile — 750ha with seven centre pivot irrigators. Tandamere — 185ha with four pivots
Average annual rainfall: 675mm plus irrigation
Soils: Nine Mile — self mulching clay Tandamere — sandy clay
Enterprises: Lucerne and winter cereal hay production

Ken Schmidt is ramping up production with winter-active lucerne varieties.

Ken Schmidt is ramping up production with winter-active lucerne varieties.

Lucerne production is ramping up at a new fodder farm south of Chinchilla in Queensland and winter-active lucerne is a key part of its success.

In just a little over two years, farm manager Ken Schmidt has turned a dryland cropping operation in the Hopeland area, south of Chinchilla in Queensland, and a grazing property a few kilometres further south, into lush lucerne-producing country.

With the transition into fodder production Ken now has 220ha of lucerne growing under centre pivot irrigation and hopes to increase this to 450ha by the end of the year.

Ken moved to Chinchilla from the Brisbane Valley during 2011 to establish the operation and manage the farm.

“It is the perfect spot to grow lucerne,” he said. “There are plenty of dry days to make hay, the humidity is low and we have plenty of water.

“But it does get cool during winter — so we consciously planted a lot of winter-active lucerne.”

Ken planted 70ha of Titan 9 winter-active lucerne on Anzac Day during 2013 and has found it to be one of the better varieties for his operation.

“I tested several different varieties here because the growing conditions are different from what I’m used to and Titan 9 and Titan 7 are outperforming the rest,” he said.

“Their germination and plant establishment were brilliant, with nice thick plant stands and high hay yields.”

Yields have been consistently above 2t/ha per cut, with cuts every month through summer. Ken said the yields tend to depend on the country, with Titan 9 averaging 2t/ha per cut on the marginal sandy clay soil, but between 2t/ha and 3t/ha per cut on the black self-mulching clay.

Most of the lucerne is baled into large bales, and with the low humidity, the baling window lasts from around midnight until 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning.

Impressive scale

“We are certainly operating on a big scale here,” Ken said. “I can mow a 46ha pivot in seven hours, rake it two or three times and then bale it in around five or six hours.

“We pick it up the next day and can be watering the block within 24 hours of baling.”

According to Ken, the lucerne is bouncing back well after cutting.

“The crown seems fairly robust and we’ve had no problems with tyre damage or disease,” he said.

“We have had to spray once for heliothis, but with regular cutting, we’re keeping the pests under control.”

Ken is hoping to retain the lucerne stands for around four years before replanting. In terms of quality, he said the lucerne was consistently rated AA and has seen growing market demand.

“The lucerne variety we have chosen has a fine stem and good leaf retention,” he said. “We haven’t seen it going rank like some of the winter actives can do.

“A lot of our lucerne hay is good enough to cut into chaff, so it is quite suitable for the feedlots,” he said.

The farm is in close proximity to more than 20 feedlot operations.

This case study was supplied by AusWest Seeds (T: 1800 224 987)