Long dry puts summer crop options in limbo

Neil Lyon, October 9, 2019

Paul McIntosh says summer croppers will be looking at a range of crop options, from sorghum and millet to maize and mungbeans, if the rains come.

THE longer the big dry extends into the summer crop planting season the more likely it will be that farmers will turn to crops like millet and mungbeans as sowing options if the rains eventually come.

Pulse Australia industry development manager and AHRI northern extension agronomist, Paul McIntosh, said farmers in the northern farming zone were desperate to grow a crop to generate cash flow after a run of drought-affected summer and winter cropping seasons.

Mr McIntosh said while it was hard to anticipate what the weather would do over coming months, if a rain front or storms came, farmers were ready to go with a range of summer crops.

“There is an awful lot of black soil out there to be planted with something,” he said.

“You can’t put all your eggs in one basket and plant everything to one single crop. So, I can see some diversification of cropping types. There might be some sorghum, there might be some millet, some maize, some mungbeans when it rains enough. The potential for everything is huge.

“But as the time goes on and cotton drops off – and there won’t be much cotton anyhow – the black soil that was cotton-intended is going to go to something else.

“The later the season goes, I speculate that if it goes through to mid-January mungbeans are going to be huge. They will be the late option for a late summer break. We have to be prepared.”

AMF concerns

Mr McIntosh said the longer it stayed dry and the fallows remained without vegetation the more concerned he was about the deterioration in the levels of arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi (AMF).

“They are the good guys in the soil. They can really make a difference to crop growth and health if they are present in numbers,” he said.

“After this extended dry period without much crop or weeds, the concern is the AMF may not be as prevalent as it could be for our summer crops. Most summer crops need AMF to grow properly.”

Mr McIntosh said there was very little growers could do to counter the risk of low AMF levels.

“You just have to make sure your soil nutrition, like phosphorus, potassium and zinc, is near the right amount for the roots to take advantage so the lack of AMF doesn’t impact too much. Having good nutrition in the right place for the right crop is the key,” he said.

“Without much winter crop, we are really missing stubble. While some crops like millet and sorghum have good stubble, mungbeans have no stubble, but they certainly have the attraction of price and provide the ability to double crop into a winter crop.”


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