Bringo boys have seeding in their sights

Recent rain sharpens seeding focus for Mid West farmers.

Frank Clune (left) and his son Josh are getting ready to start their 1200 hectare seeding program at the end of this week.

FOR the Clune family, cropping has never been an easy task with a property full of hills, gutters and rocks.

For that reason livestock forms the backbone of the farm, which is based at Bringo about 30 kilometres from Geraldton, and is the preferred side of the operation.

Though income wise it's still split 50:50 between the two.

At Newmarracarra, the operation includes 100 mixed breeder cattle and 5500 ewes, of which more than 2000 are mated to Poll Dorsets and the remainder straight back to Merino rams.

However, after more than 120 millimetres of rain fell over a three-week period at the end of March and beginning of April, Frank Clune and his son Josh have turned their attention to the 1200-hectare seeding program.

When Farm Weekly recently visited the farm, the pair was getting ready to start seeding, however Josh would have liked to have been underway earlier.

"I'd have started putting it in already if I could, but unfortunately we're not ready to go as we've been busy pregnancy scanning ewes which takes priority," Josh said.

"Balancing the sheep and cropping operations is definitely tricky and there's always a compromise.

"With moisture in the soil, it's better for a crop to be using that moisture than weeds and while I do know that the sheep graze the weeds, I don't think they do so hard enough to stop the weeds using moisture."

For the Clunes, balancing the sheep and cropping operations is definitely tricky and there's always a compromise.

While the delayed start to the cropping program was undoubtedly frustrating, the downpours, which were the first drops of rain for more than 160 days, have led to an excellent germination of weeds and subsequently the opportunity for a good knockdown before seeding begins.

With the seeding rig to be started imminently, it will first get going on about 120ha of pasture with an oats, vetch, ryegrass mix.

Next will come 420ha of canola and the same amount of wheat, plus 40ha of oats for hay and 100ha of lupins to be retained onfarm.

The family's cropping program has always been flexible.

A couple of years ago they increased their oat hay production as they didn't cut much the year before, while this season they've increased canola and dropped back on wheat due to the prices, to be planting equal amounts of the two crops for the first time.

However prices have also influenced them to cut back on fertiliser due to the cost of inputs.

For his part, Frank prefers the livestock side of the farming operation but recognises cropping was something they have to do and it does help to spread their risk which is critical for a successful enterprise.

"We usually soil test every second year, but for this season we did it at depth over more sites to get a comprehensive overview and see if we could cut back on fertiliser," Frank said.

"Based on those tests, there's enough nutrients in the soil to cut back 50 per cent on sulphate of ammonia and 30pc on MAP (monoammonium phosphate).

"In saying that, that's cutting back on what we're actually putting in the ground but the cost is still higher than it was last year even though we've ordered so much less."

The Clunes also did their paddock plan for this season during harvest last year and ordered chemicals earlier than they normally do to try and get it sorted before prices went up too much.

They're trying not to use Roundup for their summer spraying program and are instead using other slow-acting chemicals.

More than 120 millimetres of rain over a three-week period has led to a great germination providing feed for the sheep and the opportunity for a good weed knockdown before seeding starts.

Regardless, they're also hoping to cut the Roundup rate by 100 millilitres to save on overall chemical costs.

Luckily the Clunes are no strangers to learning on the fly, especially after entirely changing the farm on which they crop about a decade ago.

They used to have a sandplain property for cropping, while the home farm was purely for livestock.

When the sandplain was sold, the Clunes moved their cropping program to where it is now and quickly learned to put the cash crops, which for them are wheat and canola, on the more productive paddocks with the best soil.

Frank said with all the hills, the farm was better suited to a livestock property especially given they're only 50pc arable.

"I don't want to say cropping is a necessary evil, but it is something we have to do and it does help to spread our risk which is critical for a successful enterprise," he said.

"However there's no denying I prefer the livestock side of the operation as I feel like I have more control over it and the decisions I make are my own, rather than reliant on someone else and their expertise.

"What we crop now is all on good soil and while there is sand we could crop, we haven't worked out what needs to be done to make it productive and when we've tried it in the past, crops haven't yielded well."

On top of learning how to crop an entirely new land, the Clunes have also dealt with three seasons in a row of extreme weather events towards the beginning of the season.

"In 2020 there was a huge wind event, last year we dealt with (ex-Tropical cyclone) Seroja and this year the summer has been as long and dry as I can remember," Frank said.

"I'm not sure if that's a sign of things to come, but we definitely have had to learn to be flexible and make decisions on the fly."

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