Brady Green

Region: Chapman Valley, North East Agricultural Region, Western Australia

Commodity: Wheat, lupins, canola, barley, chickpeas, peas

Farming area: 8000 hectares

Rainfall: 350–375 mm average per year

Email: greenbe@bigpond.com

Phone: 08 9920 5454

 

Running and living off a sustainable farm is our primary objective but our profitability is obviously a major part of that and we don’t want to give that up; we just want to make sure we can tolerate a mix of seasons. We set ourselves up to gain the most out of the best seasons and lose the least in the worst seasons.

brady green web 

 

See what Brady has to say about:

 

Farming in a low-rainfall region

Our average rainfall is about 350-375 mm, which we get predominantly in the growing season. 

We're only 40 km from the coast so we get fronts coming through every 10 days during the winter. The winter rains here are reasonably consistent but we had droughts in 2006 and 2007, so obviously we’re not secure in our rainfall.

A future reduction in rainfall is very much a concern; however, it’s not our primary concern. There are so many other variables. 

It’s not just the weather we farm around. We’re constantly improving our varieties to grow in less rainfall. We’re constantly improving our methods.

Adapting to climate is about being proactive and open to new ideas. 

In moving to a no-till farming system, already we’re making preparations for farming with less water. 

Our issue in the past two years has been to not change too quick. We only get one crop a year so we can’t take on all these big new ideas at once. It’s so important that we establish them one step at a time.

Back to top

Building up the soil

We suffer leaching rain so we’ve got to top up nutrition if it doesn’t get used. That’s why we’re focusing on trying to improve the health of our soils. 

A good healthy soil type can retain moisture and nutrition and grow more grain for less inputs.

Like most farmers, you simply want to hand over the farm, whether you sell it or give it to the next generation, in a better state than what you got it. 

We took this land over in its natural state; it had only just been cleared but it was very poor. We’ve built it up nutritionally to a level that now grows acceptable crops. 

But I feel that we’ve been very focused on the health of the plant and, to me, the health of the plant will look after itself if the plant’s growing in a good soil. 

If we’re simply testing the plants all the time, we’re trying to react to their needs; whereas if we can generate a nice healthy soil type, then that plant will simply get water when it wants water and it’ll get nutrition when it wants nutrition. 

Rather than force-feeding it water soluble nutrition every time it rains, we hope to build strength into the plant which, in turn, will give us better tolerance to drought and frost. 

Rather that treating the symptoms, we just give it a good environment to grow in.

Back to top

Retaining stubble

Our mentality is very much about retaining as much residue as we possibly can.

We get a big south-westerly wind that comes in every day for 3-4 months over summer. 

It's crucial that the farm can stand up to that wind because if it's bare the paddocks just blow away.

Our soil type is mostly yellow sand plain. It's very fragile and if it's treated poorly you suffer horrific erosion.

If you haven't got good stubble cover and you get big winds, which we always do, then all the sand blows away. And that sand is your nutrition, your biology, your soil structure. All you're left with is a desert.

Had we ended up with three of four years of drought in a row, I doubt we'd even be here, but luckily there were only two (2006 and 2007). 

So now our fields remain as they are after cropping. We just spray them to make sure all the weeds are dead over the summer and the following year we come in and sow straight into the stubble. 

That's a lot different to burning or ploughing and all the other options that you have. 

We never ever want to see the place blow away again. 

Back to top

No-till farming

The droughts of 2006 and 2007 convinced us to go no-till. 

The damage that I saw from the erosion in those years was enough to convince me that if we were going to keep going with our old methods, then I didn’t want to be a part of it.

We now sow our program with two sowing machines; a disc seeder to limit the amount of moisture lost at seeding, and a conventional tyne machine

The tyne machine turns the soil upside down during sowing and a lot of water is lost through evaporation.

With a no-till system, we can establish our crop on less rainfall, we can reduce the amount of capital we’ve got tied up in putting a crop in, we’re using less fuel because the tractor requires only 300hp to pull the equivilent tyne machine would take 450hp, and we’re giving ourselves a better chance of improving the organic carbons in our soil. To me that ticks all the boxes to making us more sustainable.

When we we’re deep ripping, we spend $50 a hectare on fuel and depreciation of machines before we even start putting a crop in.

People are doing no-till very successfully on different soil types but I don’t know that it’s has been adopted successfully on this sand plain. We’re still in the process of determining if we can continue with the disc seeders.

Every farm is different so there’s no blue-print you can just pick up and just say: ok, we’re going to go down this path. So there’s a huge challenge in front of us to make it work. 

So we’ve halved our fuel bill. But are we going to produce the same amount of grain? Only time will tell. We continue to deep rip some of our soils because we know this method, at this point in time, is the most proven way to grow high yielding wheat crops.

Our farm system survives on the amount of grain grown and if no-till can’t deliver us the same amount of grain as we got before, we’re just not going to make it work.

We’re going to do all the research and put all our efforts into making sure it does.  

Otherwise we’re going to have to revert back to the old system which uses a lot of fuel, it clocks up a lot of hours on tractors and it’s quite brutal on the soil. 

A disc drill sowing on Brady Green’s farm

Back to top

Tramlining

Tramlining means you try to line up your machinery so that all wheels of each machine passing over the paddock travel along one line.

The idea is to minimise compaction of soil. It streamlines traffic instead of randomly driving across paddocks.

With less compaction, plants can grow bigger roots and explore further into the soil profile for nutrients and moisture. So you get more growth.

With auto-steer, we set the run lines for each paddock. 

We work on multiples of 12 metres, so our header front is on 12 metres, our seeder is on 12 metres and our wheel tracks are all on 3-metre wheel spacing. 

If we can prove that with tramlining and zero till we can still grow a similar amount of grain without having to spend all that money and burn all that fuel, then to me it’s got to be a better system. 

It’s just unproven so far, that’s the problem.  

Tramlines in Brady Green’s wheat field

Back to top

Controlling weeds

Weed control is a major factor in our decision to go sowing. 

We’re using conventional varieties at the moment. We grow canola and that’s an early sowing option. So to consider canola we generally need our April rains. 

In 2009 we had to plant a lot of our crop dry which meant we didn’t get a knock down on it. So our weeds got a head start on the crop, leaving us with a very expensive in-crop spray program.

It’s very difficult to control weeds that are bigger than the crop, whatever they are. You want to control them when they’re germinating or very small. 

While we know not to pin all our hopes on GMs being the answer to all our problems, it’s certainly another tool in the kit and I’m absolutely going to go for it. 

Back to top

Destocking

We were a mixed enterprise years ago but we've moved out of livestock. We found that sheep compromised what we were trying to achieve. 

Sheep are simply not supposed to be in this area. It's just too fragile. You do all that good work in building up the soil, and sheep just degrade it.

When sheep are left in a paddock to graze for three months, they'll camp on areas with very little stubble cover because it's a lot more comfortable to sleep on a nice bed of sand with no rocks or prickles. 

There'll be a lot of feed around but they'll concentrate on certain areas and those areas will just become eroded. That erosion will spread over summer and that's the problem with sheep.

Now we don't have any traffic on the paddock apart from the machines that are putting the crop in, spraying it or taking it off. 

Yes, we've got all our eggs in the one basket. And I might say something completely different in 5 years time, but right now I’m going to try and exist without stock.

Back to top

Managing frost

Frost is our main issue. 

A lot of people think we don't get frost up this way but it's definitely happening more often. 

I think it's become more of an issue in the last 10 years. Whether that's because we're growing bigger crops and whether they're freezing easier or bursting their cell walls easier, I'm not sure.

We take every measure that we can to avoid frost damage in August.

You might only get one night in a year and we got that this year. That one frost cost us about 2000 tonnes of wheat. 

There's not a great deal you can do about it but there are small things you can do.

Wheat is our main crop and it's affected the most, so it's pretty important that we do what we can to limit the loss.

In the areas that are susceptible to frost, we mix our varieties or use our rotation so we haven’t got all our wheat in those areas. 

If we're going to get 20% less rainfall in the next 10 years, we can probably still improve our practices and farm under those circumstances but, as far as the frost is concerned, if that gets worse we’ll need new varieties.

Back to top

Using weather forecasts

The forecasting tools that we use are paramount in the decisions that we make. 

We rely heavily on an accurate 4-day forecast from the BOM website, which we think we’ve got now. 

An accurate 10- or 14-day forecast from April to September is something we’d love to get our hands on. That’s what I look at up to 4 times a day during the growing season. I use various websites like metvuw or the NOAA ARL site.

We’ll put out 200 tonnes of nitrogen and I’ll be watching the forecast hoping that rain’s going to come through and wash that in before it volatilises and it starts to disappear and that money’s wasted. 

We use a number of websites from all over the world. 

The Bureau of Meteorology site is the one we fall back on. If they say it’s going to rain there’s a fair chance it will. 

A lot of the other sites aren’t as reliable and we don’t know their background whereas we know the Bureau will do their best to give us the truth more so than what we want to hear. 

I like the sites that show you up to 9 days on one page so you can just click on it and see each day and see that it’s going to rain or it’s not. Then you can go to another site and work out the temperature, Delta T, and your spraying programs  So you know for the next couple of days where you’re going and what you’re doing.

[Delta T is a figure derived relative humidity and temperature; it determines the time the droplet will survive on the plant and get the most out of the chemical application.]

With our programs now, everyone is capitalised to the extent that they can do what they need to do in a timeframe. Whether you’re sowing or harvesting, you have a set timeframe to get that job done in within the constraints of the weather forecast. 

If we can get a good 10-day forecast and we know that in 10 days time it’s going to rain, we’ll have half our seeding program in before that rain comes. Then we’ll watch that forecast daily and, once we start seeing variability, like the forecast rainfall gets put back a few days or gets reduced a little bit, we’ll slow down and possibly stop. 

That 10 days allows us enough time to hedge our bets and get, say, 50% or 80% done. That’s the window. We will spend a lot of money in a short time if we can rely on our forecast being accurate about coming rains.

If you only get 4 days warning that you’ve got the break of the season coming, sure, you should be organised and ready to go anyway, but you can only get so much done. We work around the clock.

Interviewed in 2009 

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Contact Brady Green

If you have a question for Brady about any information on this page, please submit it on the form below.

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Back to top

Farming in a low-rainfall region

Our average rainfall is about 350-375 mm, which we get predominantly in the growing season.

We're only 40 km from the coast so we get fronts coming through every 10 days during the winter. The winter rains here are reasonably consistent but we had droughts in 2006 and 2007, so obviously we’re not secure in our rainfall.

A future reduction in rainfall is very much a concern; however, it’s not our primary concern. There are so many other variables.

It’s not just the weather we farm around. We’re constantly improving our varieties to grow in less rainfall. We’re constantly improving our methods.

Adapting to climate is about being proactive and open to new ideas.

In moving to a no-till farming system, already we’re making preparations for farming with less water.

Our issue in the past two years has been to not change too quick. We only get one crop a year so we can’t take on all these big new ideas at once. It’s so important that we establish them one step at a time.

Back to top

Building up the soil

We suffer leaching rain so we’ve got to top up nutrition if it doesn’t get used. That’s why we’re focusing on trying to improve the health of our soils.

A good healthy soil type can retain moisture and nutrition and grow more grain for less inputs.

Like most farmers, you simply want to hand over the farm, whether you sell it or give it to the next generation, in a better state than what you got it.

We took this land over in its natural state; it had only just been cleared but it was very poor. We’ve built it up nutritionally to a level that now grows acceptable crops.

But I feel that we’ve been very focused on the health of the plant and, to me, the health of the plant will look after itself if the plant’s growing in a good soil.

If we’re simply testing the plants all the time, we’re trying to react to their needs; whereas if we can generate a nice healthy soil type, then that plant will simply get water when it wants water and it’ll get nutrition when it wants nutrition.

Rather than force-feeding it water soluble nutrition every time it rains, we hope to build strength into the plant which, in turn, will give us better tolerance to drought and frost.

Rather that treating the symptoms, we just give it a good environment to grow in.

Back to top

Retaining stubble

Our mentality is very much about retaining as much residue as we possibly can.

We get a big south-westerly wind that comes in every day for 3-4 months over summer.

It's crucial that the farm can stand up to that wind because if it's bare the paddocks just blow away.

Our soil type is mostly yellow sand plain. It's very fragile and if it's treated poorly you suffer horrific erosion.

If you haven't got good stubble cover and you get big winds, which we always do, then all the sand blows away. And that sand is your nutrition, your biology, your soil structure. All you're left with is a desert.

Had we ended up with three of four years of drought in a row, I doubt we'd even be here, but luckily there were only two (2006 and 2007).

So now our fields remain as they are after cropping. We just spray them to make sure all the weeds are dead over the summer and the following year we come in and sow straight into the stubble.

That's a lot different to burning or ploughing and all the other options that you have.

We never ever want to see the place blow away again.

Back to top

No-till farming

The droughts of 2006 and 2007 convinced us to go no-till.

The damage that I saw from the erosion in those years was enough to convince me that if we were going to keep going with our old methods, then I didn’t want to be a part of it.

We now sow our program with two sowing machines; a disc seeder to limit the amount of moisture lost at seeding, and a conventional tyne machine

The tyne machine turns the soil upside down during sowing and a lot of water is lost through evaporation.

With a no-till system, we can establish our crop on less rainfall, we can reduce the amount of capital we’ve got tied up in putting a crop in, we’re using less fuel because the tractor requires only 300hp to pull the equivilent tyne machine would take 450hp, and we’re giving ourselves a better chance of improving the organic carbons in our soil. To me that ticks all the boxes to making us more sustainable.

When we we’re deep ripping, we spend $50 a hectare on fuel and depreciation of machines before we even start putting a crop in.

People are doing no-till very successfully on different soil types but I don’t know that it’s has been adopted successfully on this sand plain. We’re still in the process of determining if we can continue with the disc seeders.

Every farm is different so there’s no blue-print you can just pick up and just say: ok, we’re going to go down this path. So there’s a huge challenge in front of us to make it work.

So we’ve halved our fuel bill. But are we going to produce the same amount of grain? Only time will tell. We continue to deep rip some of our soils because we know this method, at this point in time, is the most proven way to grow high yielding wheat crops.

Our farm system survives on the amount of grain grown and if no-till can’t deliver us the same amount of grain as we got before, we’re just not going to make it work.

We’re going to do all the research and put all our efforts into making sure it does. 

Otherwise we’re going to have to revert back to the old system which uses a lot of fuel, it clocks up a lot of hours on tractors and it’s quite brutal on the soil.

[Insert image name: Brady_disk_drill_sowing_web.JPG

Alignment: left

Image description: A disc drill sowing on Brady Green’s farm

Caption: A disc drill sowing on Brady Green’s farm]

Photo: ???]


Back to top

Tramlining

Tramlining means you try to line up your machinery so that all wheels of each machine passing over the paddock travel along one line.

The idea is to minimise compaction of soil. It streamlines traffic instead of randomly driving across paddocks.

With less compaction, plants can grow bigger roots and explore further into the soil profile for nutrients and moisture. So you get more growth.

With auto-steer, we set the run lines for each paddock.

We work on multiples of 12 metres, so our header front is on 12 metres, our seeder is on 12 metres and our wheel tracks are all on 3-metre wheel spacing.

If we can prove that with tramlining and zero till we can still grow a similar amount of grain without having to spend all that money and burn all that fuel, then to me it’s got to be a better system.

It’s just unproven so far, that’s the problem. 

[Insert image name: Brady_tramlining_web.jpg

Alignment: left

Image description: Tramlines in Brady’s wheat field

Caption: Tramlines in Brady Green’s wheat field]

Photo: Amanda Hodgson]


Controlling weeds

Weed control is a major factor in our decision to go sowing.

We’re using conventional varieties at the moment. We grow canola and that’s an early sowing option. So to consider canola we generally need our April rains.

In 2009 we had to plant a lot of our crop dry which meant we didn’t get a knock down on it. So our weeds got a head start on the crop, leaving us with a very expensive in-crop spray program.

It’s very difficult to control weeds that are bigger than the crop, whatever they are. You want to control them when they’re germinating or very small.

While we know not to pin all our hopes on GMs being the answer to all our problems, it’s certainly another tool in the kit and I’m absolutely going to go for it.

Back to top

Destocking

We were a mixed enterprise years ago but we've moved out of livestock. We found that sheep compromised what we were trying to achieve.

Sheep are simply not supposed to be in this area. It's just too fragile. You do all that good work in building up the soil, and sheep just degrade it.

When sheep are left in a paddock to graze for three months, they'll camp on areas with very little stubble cover because it's a lot more comfortable to sleep on a nice bed of sand with no rocks or prickles.

There'll be a lot of feed around but they'll concentrate on certain areas and those areas will just become eroded. That erosion will spread over summer and that's the problem with sheep.

Now we don't have any traffic on the paddock apart from the machines that are putting the crop in, spraying it or taking it off.

Yes, we've got all our eggs in the one basket. And I might say something completely different in 5 years time, but right now I’m going to try and exist without stock.

Back to top

Managing frost

Frost is our main issue.

A lot of people think we don't get frost up this way but it's definitely happening more often.

I think it's become more of an issue in the last 10 years. Whether that's because we're growing bigger crops and whether they're freezing easier or bursting their cell walls easier, I'm not sure.

We take every measure that we can to avoid frost damage in August.

You might only get one night in a year and we got that this year. That one frost cost us about 2000 tonnes of wheat.

There's not a great deal you can do about it but there are small things you can do.

Wheat is our main crop and it's affected the most, so it's pretty important that we do what we can to limit the loss.

In the areas that are susceptible to frost, we mix our varieties or use our rotation so we haven’t got all our wheat in those areas.

If we're going to get 20% less rainfall in the next 10 years, we can probably still improve our practices and farm under those circumstances but, as far as the frost is concerned, if that gets worse we’ll need new varieties.

Back to top

Using weather forecasts

The forecasting tools that we use are paramount in the decisions that we make.

We rely heavily on an accurate 4-day forecast from the BOM website [insert link http://www.bom.gov.au/], which we think we’ve got now.

An accurate 10- or 14-day forecast from April to September is something we’d love to get our hands on. That’s what I look at up to 4 times a day during the growing season. I use various websites like metvuw [link to http://metvuw.com/forecast/] or the NOAA ARL site [link to http://ready.arl.noaa.gov/READYcmet.php].

We’ll put out 200 tonnes of nitrogen and I’ll be watching the forecast hoping that rain’s going to come through and wash that in before it volatilises and it starts to disappear and that money’s wasted.

We use a number of websites from all over the world.

The Bureau of Meteorology site is the one we fall back on. If they say it’s going to rain there’s a fair chance it will.

A lot of the other sites aren’t as reliable and we don’t know their background whereas we know the Bureau will do their best to give us the truth more so than what we want to hear.

I like the sites that show you up to 9 days on one page so you can just click on it and see each day and see that it’s going to rain or it’s not. Then you can go to another site and work out the temperature, Delta T, and your spraying programs  So you know for the next couple of days where you’re going and what you’re doing.

[Delta T is a figure derived relative humidity and temperature; it determines the time the droplet will survive on the plant and get the most out of the chemical application.]

With our programs now, everyone is capitalised to the extent that they can do what they need to do in a timeframe. Whether you’re sowing or harvesting, you have a set timeframe to get that job done in within the constraints of the weather forecast.

If we can get a good 10-day forecast and we know that in 10 days time it’s going to rain, we’ll have half our seeding program in before that rain comes. Then we’ll watch that forecast daily and, once we start seeing variability, like the forecast rainfall gets put back a few days or gets reduced a little bit, we’ll slow down and possibly stop.

That 10 days allows us enough time to hedge our bets and get, say, 50% or 80% done. That’s the window. We will spend a lot of money in a short time if we can rely on our forecast being accurate about coming rains.

If you only get 4 days warning that you’ve got the break of the season coming, sure, you should be organised and ready to go anyway, but you can only get so much done. We work around the clock.

Back to top
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