Growing profit from the ground up

Cover cropping success relies on sympathetic season

Farmers: Peter, Darryl and Kevin Harper
Location: Ariah Park, NSW
Property size: 6000ha
Average annual rainfall: 550mm
Soils: Predominantly red-brown loams with some self-mulching and ironbark clays
Enterprises: Winter cropping (canola and wheat) and sheep (90:20 cropping:sheep)

Fraser (left) and father Peter Harper (right) in a paddock of lucerne sown under challenging seasonal conditions during 2009, which will be sprayed out during September ready for cropping during 2014. (Photo: Georgia Harper)

Fraser (left) and father Peter Harper (right) in a paddock of lucerne sown under challenging seasonal conditions during 2009, which will be sprayed out during September ready for cropping during 2014. (Photo: Georgia Harper)

Twenty years ago, Peter Harper remembers farmers complaining about how hard it was to establish productive and persistent perennial lucerne pastures; these days the challenge is trying to kill them in preparation for the cropping phase. Peter and his family have been managing the challenge of optimal establishment in their mixed farming system for the past 20 years and have recently worked alongside the FFI CRC EverCrop team to fine tune their cover cropping approach.

Key points

  • Cover cropping (under-sowing crops with perennial pasture in the year of establishment) can be cost-effective, but success is seasonally dependent.
  • The benefits of cover cropping in a mixed farming system go further than crop or pasture production alone.
  • Achieving the right balance of crop and pasture sowing rates, under favourable seasonal conditions, boosts the chance of success.

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Note: This case study originally appeared in the former Future Farm industries CRC Future Farm magazine during August 2013.