Growing profit from the ground up

Pasture Improvement Initiative

New weed control strategy puts seeds business back on track

Case study: Andrew and Deanna Shepherd
Location: Kybybolite, South Australia
Soils: Light duplex soils — poorly draining soils prone to waterlogging during winter
Enterprises: Mixed farming — including clover seed and hay production, lucerne and vegetable seeds, wheat, barley and hay.

James Heffernan, Cox Rural, Bayer CropScience Territory Sales Manager Craig Jackson and Kybybolite small seeds producer Andrew Shepherd inspect an excellent stand of sub-clover in a paddock previously riddled with ryegrass.

James Heffernan, Cox Rural, Bayer CropScience Territory Sales Manager Craig Jackson and Kybybolite small seeds producer Andrew Shepherd inspect an excellent stand of sub-clover in a paddock previously riddled with ryegrass.

A combination of new herbicide technology, hay crops, grazing management and burning paddocks only when necessary has seen South East grower Andrew Shepherd secure the future of his family’s fourth-generation pasture seed business.

Five years ago, Andrew could see four generations of small seeds production and a million dollar business becoming unsustainable due to herbicide-resistant annual ryegrass. But a multi-pronged approach, with crops sown earlier, has seen weed numbers decline considerably, seed yields increase and herbicide applications reduce. The business is back in good shape for the fifth generation.

The Shepherd’s diverse farming operation includes clover, lucerne and vegetable seed production, broadacre winter cereals, canola and hay production. Although most broadacre crops are rainfed, Andrew and Deanna have 250ha under irrigation.

With a high-quality seed processing system located on their farm, the Shepherds are looking to value-add to their business by doing seed bulk-ups of pre-basic and basic seed lines for seed companies.

Herbicide resistance

Growing canola for a period in the rotation meant Andrew was using the same chemicals in both the canola and clover crops. Consequently, annual ryegrass numbers increased.

An example of the annual ryegrass burden faced by the Shepherd family on Oakfields, and in the background the control they are now achieving.

An example of the annual ryegrass burden faced by the Shepherd family on Oakfields, and in the background the control they are now achieving.

The Shepherd’s agronomist James Heffernan, Cox Rural, said in the worst areas, ryegrass numbers were as high as 30,000 per square metre.

“Group A herbicides were failing in the Shepherd’s system,” James explained. “In-crop selective (herbicides) no longer work in this region— there is up to 80 % Group A resistance in the South East.”

As a result, Andrew said they were faced with growing more hay crops and burning paddocks. They have since turned to using a Group K pre-emergent herbicide, growing wheat, feed barley and cereal hay crops, strategic use of livestock and burning paddocks only if required.

“Burning is not our first preference. We try to ensure we are building organic matter in our soils,’’ Andrew said.

With a feed market to the south, the Shepherds can cut paddocks for hay if there are some weed escapes in crops, or they can grow a hay crop the following year to clean up paddocks. Andrew said the new approach with pyroxasulfone has improved weed control significantly.

“We can now come out of clover and go with hay, or go with wheat and a Group K pre-emergent followed by hay and then back to clover.’’

“In the worst paddock, we have gone from thousands of (ryegrass) plants four years ago. With the use of Sakura® in wheat and then hay the following year, the paddock is now clean.’’

“What the improved ryegrass control has done for our yields has been unbelievable,’’ Andrew said.

“Our sub-clover seed was back at 400kg/ha in bad ryegrass paddocks, whereas now we are up around 800–900kg/ha on our dryland paddocks (with good seasonal conditions) and irrigated paddocks are yielding 1t/ha or more.

“The return on investment has probably been up to an extra $1000/ha of profit with the sub-clover and we are also getting an extra 1t/ha of wheat.’’

Andrew has found the Group K pre-emergent herbicide has controlled barley grass as well as the ryegrass, while a couple of paddocks with bad toad rush populations were now very clean. “The length of control with Sakura is very good – about eight to 10 weeks,’’ James said.

Containing the active ingredient, pyroxasulfone, the pre-emergent herbicide also controls silver grass and annual phalaris and suppresses wild oats and great brome in wheat (not durum wheat) and triticale crops.

At the start of the season, instead of employing a double knockdown before sowing wheat, the Shepherds now generally use one knockdown before applying the pre-emergent herbicide in front of their Shearer trash drill; set on 22.5cm (9in) spacings.

Sowing used to start during late May or into June, but now occurs from mid-May, allowing crops to establish earlier and achieve a good canopy more quickly.

This article was supplied by Bayer Crop Science. Further information from Bayer CropScience can be found at bayercropscience.com.au.