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John Stevenson, Lockhart NSW

Corporate farming and weed control

At Warakirri Cropping Trusts’ ‘Orange Park’, manager John Stevenson has set up a crop rotation that is profitable and able to combat herbicide resistance in weeds.

Orange Park is an 8200 ha corporate dryland cropping operation with eight main blocks, all within a 30 km radius of Lockhart, NSW where John introduced the use of the double break from cereals 10 years ago.



To get the best result possible from OP canola, ‘Orange Park’ manager John Stevenson (left) has their seed professionally graded and only plants seed sized over 2 mm diameter. Karl Grocke (right) has joined the team at Orange Park on their graduate program, making the most of the opportunity to learn from great operators like John.

“Our rotation is driven by herbicide resistant weed management,” he says. “A double break, such as hay/canola, pulse/canola, fallow/canola, is implemented once in a 7-year rotation. The rotation is flexible but we do what we can to avoid growing three cereal crops in a row because the result is inevitably a weed blow-out.”

The main weeds on Orange Park are annual ryegrass in-crop and fleabane in summer, which has been increasing since 2005, particularly in wet years. Wild oats is a lesser but persistent weed.

“We have low level glyphosate resistance and varying levels of Group A resistance to contend with,” says John. “We don’t use much Group B chemistry either, except occasionally in imi-tolerant crops, partly because of decontamination issues with canola, but mainly because of poor efficacy.”

The wettest September on record in 2016 saw about 10% of the crop across the Orange Park operation inundated – compromising their weed control and nitrogen management.

“Essentially we lost a year of weed control with ryegrass blow outs due to poor crop competition and not being able to do timely herbicide applications,” says John. “We also saw a shift in the weed spectrum with more carryover of weeds that thrive in wet conditions, such as toad rush and lesser loosestrife.”

Crop rotation and double break cropping

The rotation that is working well on Orange Park since 2008 consists of two cereals followed by canola, then another two cereals and finally a double break before returning to cereals.

John incorporates as much diversity within the system as possible to maximise returns and keep pressure on weed numbers. Canola, wheat, barley, pulses (including faba bean, lentils and vetch hay), oaten hay for export, and strategic fallowing to conserve moisture, all feature in the list of options. The diversity in crops enables the rotation of herbicide groups, including pre-emergent herbicides ahead of each crop.

Imi-tolerant crops such as Hurricane lentils, IT-canola, possibly barley in the future add to the mix although John often grows hybrid IT-canola conventionally simply for its inherent yield advantage.

“The price of lentils is attractive however logistics are difficult, as grain needs to get to Horsham, over 6 hours away,” he says. “Realistically, canola and feed grain for poultry and feedlots are our mainstay crops.”

To maximise the competitiveness of canola crops John grows some hybrid crops and also grades OP canola to 2 mm diameter as a cost-effective way to improve crop establishment and early vigour that also suppresses early weed growth.

John uses TT canola when weeds become a problem issue and Clearfield canola in low weed population paddocks where he can also apply atrazine on volunteer faba beans.

This year John planted 650 ha trial of lentils in a block that would normally have been fallowed. “There was good residual soil moisture from last year’s wet winter and we tried a late planting system to reduce the density of the lentil crop to keep air flowing through canopy, hopefully reducing the incidence of disease,” he says. “Weed control in the Hurricanes XT lentils has been exceptional although the crop has demonstrated the need for better pH amelioration at depth.”

“Including lentils will spread the workload and we can target a different weed germination cohort,” he says. “Having a different group of herbicides available will also help add diversity to our control program.”

Row spacing, CTF and stubble management

John manages Orange Park as eight 1000 ha management units, where a unit may consist of several blocks in close proximity. He is looking at opportunities to implement east–west sowing in suitable blocks to maximise yield and reduce weed pressure.

While on a Nuffield Scholarship trip to New Zealand, John saw crops grown on 125 mm (5 inch) row spacing where farmers were able to include ryegrass as a crop in their rotation, without concern over future weed problems.

“Historically, our seeding has been on a 300 mm row spacing but we are in the process of investing in a full disc seeding system, which will allow us to narrow the row spacing to 175 mm (7 inches),” says John.

The disc seeder will enable John to retain stubble from their 1.7 t/ha pulses, 3.4 t/ha wheat and 4 t/ha barley crops within their 18 m system with 3 m CTF tramlines.

Harvest weed seed control

John and his team have been narrow windrow burning for three years. Having tried this harvest weed seed control tactic in canola, wheat and barley crops they have found the safest and best results are achieved in canola.

“Realistically, narrow windrow burning is not very compatible with the council’s fire regulations so we are looking at alternatives,” says John. “Cereal stubble burns for 4 or 5 hours, and whirlwinds can easily shift burning chaff 300 m into a neighbour’s stubble.”

A downside to narrow windrow burning is that more moisture is stored under the narrow windrows, which can cause uneven crop germination the following season.

John has been successfully using narrow windrow burning in canola for several years. Twelve days after sowing, this Lancer wheat crop shows the variability in germination where the rows under the narrow windrow have access to more moisture.

John is looking into other options for harvest weed seed control and will probably phase out narrow windrow burning over the next few years. Chaff deck systems suit CTF and although John thinks they have merit, there are limitations on the options available when using contract harvesters. Chaff lining seems easier to implement and is likely to feature in the near future.

“Narrow rows help push weed seed heads to the top of the canopy,” says John. “Two plants per m2 is too many, especially if the weed is able to adopt a prostrate habit and evade collection at harvest. The big challenge is getting inexperienced header drivers to harvest low, even though we pay the contractor a premium to have this happen.”

John uses spray topping in canola, and sometimes wheat and barley, along with hay production to take out late germinating weeds.

Fallow management

Over summer, John uses a contractor with an optical (camera) sprayer to treat survivors with paraquat following a broadacre spray of glyphosate. He says the optical sprayer is also a valuable tool to help manage cud weed, which is becoming more prevalent.

There is no routine cultivation in the system however John does incorporate lime with a speed tiller before planting and a full tillage using a flexicoil is done when there is levelling work required.

“When we change over to the disc seeder we will probably need to cultivate to remove the ridges left by the tined system,” he says. “The disc seeders can’t handle too much chaff on the ground either, so burning is still an option for weed control, or when slugs and mice are a problem.”

Soil fertility and weeds

Across the Orange Park operation John has acidic (pH 4.5) red soil ridges and some sodic vertosols to contend with. He is using variable rate technology (VRT) to apply lime to the red ridges using rates ranging from 1 to 3 t/ha to lift the pH to 5.5.

“We saw an immediate response of lower ryegrass population in low pH blocks after lime application due to stronger crop competition,” he says. “Variable rate application and soil testing has been very cost effective for us and has helped reduce weed numbers and improves herbicide efficacy. Fixing soil pH gives the best return on investment through improved nutrient availability, which supports higher yield and better weed control.”

John is also using soil sensing and VRT to address constraints in nitrogen and phosphorus.

The red soil ridges on ‘Orange Park’ are acidic (pH 4.5) so John is using variable rate lime applications to lift the average pH in these soils to 5.5. In doing so he has observed an immediate reduction in ryegrass numbers due to the improved crop competitiveness.



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Can pulse cover crops tackle multi-resistant ryegrass in irrigated systems?

The best weed control comes from tactics that also bring other benefits to a farming system.
Greg Sefton, principal agronomist with Sefton Agronomics in the Riverina, says multi-resistant annual ryegrass is becoming a major problem in irrigated systems.
Greg Sefton, principal agronomist with Sefton Agronomics in the Riverina, says legume cover cropping is providing effective control of multi-resistant annual ryegrass in irrigated systems.
“Herbicide resistance can move easily through irrigation areas, particularly when the control methods used on the supply channels are limited to just a few herbicides,” he says. “The ryegrass here is generally accepted to have resistance to glyphosate (Group 9 [M]), Group 1 [A] such as clethodim, Group 2 [B] and Group 3 [D], such as trifluralin. Growers are now relying heavily on Group 15 [K] products such as Sakura, and doing their best to rotate out of the problem.”
To regain control, Greg is working with growers to incorporate a multi-purpose fallow crop such as field pea into the system as a winter fallow clean with the added benefit of contributing biological nitrogen into the soil ahead of planting rice or wheat. 
Earlier maturing varieties of field pea provide better weed control options than Kaspa field pea, chickpea and lupin, all of which generally mature later, sometimes after the target weeds have set seed.
“A competitive pulse crop terminated at maximum biomass is an excellent way to reduce weed seed set,” says Greg. “It is a cultural control that also enables the use of some herbicides that are rarely used in our system. Combining the herbicide and cultural methods in the WeedSmart Big 6 is an effective way to keep our cropping options open and to maximise the value of applied water.”

What is the best fit for the legume crop as a winter clean?
In brief: In the Riverina, the optimal place in the rotation is ahead of rice.
The details: Fields selected for rice production are usually bare fallowed for the preceding winter. The aim of the fallow is to control weeds and conserve soil moisture.
Some growers are having success with field pea sown in May as a winter cover crop then terminated for silage or as a brown manure in early September. This fits well with preventing seed set in annual ryegrass, including late germinating plants.
Field pea is a competitive legume and can suppress weed germination and growth when planted in the most competitive configuration possible with minimal soil disturbance and no gaps.
A knockdown treatment of glyphosate (Group 9 [M]), clopyralid (Group 4 [I]) and carfentrazone (Group G [14]) is applied at planting then a mix of pendimethalin (Group 3 [D]), clomazone (Group 13 [Q]) and paraquat (Group 22 [L]) is applied after an irrigation flush to initiate rice germination and prior to rice germination to knockdown both newly emerged barnyard grass (BYG) and persisting ryegrass. This provides a double knock on ryegrass whilst applying a pre-emergent herbicide for barnyard grass in the rice phase.
When implemented once every 4 or 5 years, with a diverse rotation of winter and summer crops in-between, growers can keep a lid on herbicide resistant annual ryegrass populations. 
Field pea is a competitive legume crop that can reduce annual ryegrass germination in the paddock and halt encroachment from the crop borders.
How do you manage weeds on the non-crop areas?
In brief: The same herbicide mix is applied to the whole paddock, including the weeds growing in the check banks.
The details: Weed seed, often carrying herbicide resistance genes, travels easily through irrigation systems and can colonise non-crop areas. Seed from these plants readily infests the cropping areas if not controlled effectively. The control measures used on non-crop zones are often limited to herbicide tactics, so it is important to make sure the herbicide is applied to maximum effect to prevent seed set.
Farm hygiene and physical removal of isolated weeds will also have a positive impact on weed seed production. 
What farming system benefits come with growing a legume cover crop?
In brief: A legume crop grown for biomass rather than grain can improved soil tilth and reduce crusting on some sodic soils. This practice also allows better soil nutrition management and keeps the grower’s options open if the water allocation situation changes.
The details: The field pea crop will fix atmospheric nitrogen and this allows the grower to use 100 to 150 kg/ha less urea to grow the following rice crop without any yield penalty. If there is insufficient irrigation water available for a rice crop, then the fixed nitrogen is still available for a winter crop of canola or wheat.
The phosphorus fertiliser required for rice can be applied when the field pea crop is planted, giving the phosphorus time to become more available in the soil and ready for uptake when the rice is planted.
Field pea is quite drought tolerant, so if irrigation water is not available for rice, the field pea can be grown through to harvest the grain and will usually yield 0.7 t/ha, which can be more profitable than, say, a 1 t/ha drought-affected wheat crop.
Building an integrated farming system based on methods that have multiple benefits is fundamental to staying ahead of weed pressure.
Practical tips for growing field peas as a brown manure crop
Pulses to attack weeds on many fronts

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Effective decision-making is at the core of successful farm business management.
Making informed, logical and timely business decisions is crucial to achieving business objectivess.
Understand the different elements that influence how decisions are made and the possible outcomes.
Consider who is responsible for the final decisions in the different areas of your farm business.
Ensure the decision is finalised and implemented in a timely manner.

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The application of herbicides late in the season to prevent weeds setting seed or to desiccate crops must be carried out with caution and in line with herbicide label recommendations.
It is essential to check if these practices are acceptable to buyers, as in some situations markets have extremely low or even zero tolerance to some pesticide and herbicide residues.

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