Low-tech, high input, high output cereals

10.12.2018

Today we travelled into Southland and south-eastern Otago on New Zealand’s South Island to meet three superb, and very different arable farmers, Blair Drysdale, near Balfour, Mike Solari at Otamita and Craig Whiteside by Ashley Down. We arrived following a very wet November, Mike Solari had recorded 171mm of rain for the month!

New Zealand grows just over 40,000ha of both wheat and barley, most of it is sold into local micro-markets to feed stock; it’s not uncommon for farmer to supply farmer direct from farm. The region that we visited has had a resurgence in arable in recent years. Crop growing was popular in the 1950s and ‘60s but was replaced by livestock. Then in the early 2000s, dairy increased markedly as dairy farmers migrated south from the Waikato in the North Island, where land prices spiralled from the late 1990s.

All three farmers that we visited yesterday are growing some of the varieties that we produce in the UK, for example, barley variety ‘RGT Planet’ and Revelation wheat. Their systems are very high input – a four or five spray fungicide programme, which is not unusual in wheat – with fertiliser inputs significantly higher than those used in the UK.

Blair Drysdale’s (Blocka) enterprises are a combination of arable, tulips for bulbs (land leased to a Dutch company) beef and sheep, he has recently bought out his parents. He also supplies grain to the local merchant for feed.

Blocka is one of BASF’s trial farms for our new active ingredient. He said that the product performance was very noticeable on the grwoing crop (all in full ear) and said it was an important active for barley, given that they have nothing to effectively control Ramularia. His farm is also prone to Septoria, so the AI will be very valuable for his high output wheats as well.

Our next visit was to see the humble, quiet and very determined Mike Solari, the record-breaking wheat yield man. He took the world wheat yield title in 2007 with a crop of Savannah yielding 16.79t/ha.

He continues to yield between 14t-16t/ha and budgets to yield 14t every year. His inputs are high, both in terms of fungicides and fertiliser, but his seed rate is very low at 85kg/ha. Soil fertility is at the front of his mind, his rotation is 9-years long, including three years in grass. The grass is let to a grazier partner who on the clover and plantain rich leys. Mike firmly believes that the fertility brought by the sheep and the break of the grass leys are what allows him to produce the yields that he does.

Our final visit today was to Craig Whiteside, a very unconventional, margin driven farmer. Like the other two farmers his system is very simple, high input and high output. The field of high wheat we went to see yielded 30t/ha in the last two seasons.

Craig doesn’t own a drill, he broadcasts his seed from a fertiliser spreader and then buries it using a cultipress. He aims to establish 800 heads/m2. He applies a lot of inputs aiming to get as much from the varieties and soil as possible. His philosophy is to sell NZ$0.20/kg of dry matter from any of his cropped land, whether that’s whole crop silage to local dairy farmers, wheat or barley grain and straw. This year he is trialling forage maize using the Samco film system – maize this far south is touch and go – he says that there is already a lot of interest from local dairy farmers.

Craig is also trialling Revysol and describes the AI as a ‘game changer’ for New Zealand’s arable farmers.

Keep an eye on our progress over the next few days – we’ll be visiting another large arable farmer and the FAR Field Day (New Zealand’s equivalent of the Cereals Event).

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