The Prairie Giants Crop Report

Field observations at your fingertips

January 9, 2023

Taylor Kurtenbach

AgLink Agronomy Exchange
This fall, I had the opportunity to participate in an agronomy exchange program through AgLink Canada and AgLink Australia. I spent four weeks in rural Victoria and New South Wales touring around with local agros checking crops, both broadacre and horticulture, as well as livestock operations. In this special edition of Prairie Giants Crop Report, I want to share my experience from “down under!”
Australian canola.
Kangaroo crossing.
The exchange took place from September 15th-October 12th during their spring season. At the time, Australia was experiencing abnormally wet and cool conditions (lucky me!) Our time was split between two independent ag retails – Western Ag and AgNVet Services. We spent time in many different locations including Ballarat, Horsham, Shepparton, Cobram, Junee, Corowa and Tooma.
Map of Australia.
Zoomed in map of AgLink Exchange locations.
Obviously, I only got to see a very small part of Australian agriculture, so this by no means can be used as a broad generalization of their industry. Like Canadian ag, it is very diverse and practices change depending on geography, climate, etc. With that being said, here are some of the key agronomic differences I noticed: 
Crop Types
For the most part, the crops grown during their winter season were very similar to here. Their typical rotation included wheat, barley, canola and pulses. Faba beans were grown in areas with high moisture, and lentils in areas with low moisture. A big difference I noted was the canola herbicide traits. Most of the canola grown was Triazine Tolerant (TT), followed by Roundup Ready (RR) and Clearfield (CL). Very little Liberty Link (LL) canola was grown due to their winter conditions. Since they are growing canola during their winter season, they lack the heat and humidity needed for glufosinate to be effective. Other minor/specialty crops I saw included pyrethrum, oats for hay export, and lupins. Chem fallow was also practiced in areas, like Horsham, with typically low moisture.
New addition to the office (since completed).
Darwin 3000

In the Cobram area, summer cropping is also practiced. Crops like corn, rice and cotton are grown under irrigation. Unfortunately, when I was there it was still too cold, so no summer crops were seeded yet.

Horticulture was heavily present in Shepparton and Cobram. While in Cobram, we spent a day with one of AgNVet’s horticulture agros touring orchards and packaging plants. Cobram is a good stone fruit (peaches, plums, etc.) growing area, but they also grow different citruses, apples, pears and persimmon. One thing I quickly learned is how labour-intensive horticulture is – thinning flowers/fruit, pruning and picking fruit is almost exclusively done manually. More machinery is being introduced to reduce labour requirements, like the Darwin 3000. This is mounted to a tractor, and spins knocking flowers off the trees to thin them. The speed is dependent on how many flowers need to be removed.

We saw a variety of orchards at different stages, from establishment to orchards older than me! After planting a new block, it takes approximately three years for apples and peaches to produce fruit and ten years for pears. “Plant pears for heirs” is a common saying due to this fact. Large amounts of gypsum are applied prior to planting, while the rest of the fertility is applied through fertigation twice a year. Once established, apples will last up to forty years, stone fruit twenty years, and pears eighty to one hundred years. Multiple pesticide applications are made in a year, between fifteen to twenty. 

Apple orchard.
Mandarin orchard.
Orange orchard.
Pear orchard.
I also had the opportunity to tour two packaging plants – each orchard has their own that they use to pack their fruit. The fruit is washed, sorted based on size and quality, stickered, and packaged. Fruit that does not make spec is either used for animal feed, juice, etc. 
From the apple packaging plant.
More apple packaging.
Apples ready to ship.
Length of Growing Season
One of the first things I noticed when I was over there was the length of their growing season. Seeding of their winter crops takes place in April/May, just like our spring crops, but they don’t harvest until December. Their growing season is almost double the length of ours. When I was there in September, canola was flowering, and looked very similar to how our crops look in July. Flowering is also double the length, ranging from six to eight weeks. Since their crops grow throughout their “cool” winter months, with less daylight hours, the growing season is extended. 
Trash Management
A longer growing season results in more crop biomass, making trash management important. They do a combination of burning residue, and strategic tillage. For example, when seeding corn on corn they will use strip tillage to prepare a seedbed while still maintaining residue to preserve moisture. This is especially important when irrigation water is $$!
Crop biomass.
Strip tillage.
Average rainfall is variable depending on the region and ranged from 450 mm in Horsham to 645 mm in Ballarat and everywhere in between. This was a misconception of mine coming into this exchange, assuming that they received very little rain when they in fact receive more than us on average. This growing season was a bit of an anomaly, as Australia was experiencing extremely wet conditions throughout the country. This resulted in high disease pressure, and multiple fungicide applications. 
Rainfall example.
More examples of excessive rainfall.
Rust was a huge issue while I was there – 3+ fungicide applications had been made (approximately every three to four weeks) as well as their fertilizer being applied with flutriafol. Flutriafol is a fungicide applied to fertilizer to control rust in cereals and blackleg in canola for up to twelve weeks. It can also be applied to the seed, but at much lower rates making it less effective. When applied to the fertilizer, they are able to wait until the 2nd node to apply a foliar fungicide.
Rust damage.
Rust damage.
Rust damage.
Other diseases I saw in cereals included septoria, powdery mildew and fusarium head blight. Common diseases in canola included aerial blackleg and sclerotinia stem rot. As you can see, the disease spectrum is very similar to our own. 

As for weeds, the two biggest issues are wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) and annual ryegrass (Lolium rigidum). Annual ryegrass is highly competitive, even at early growth stages, and must be controlled pre-seed. It is also herbicide resistant to multiple actives. To manage glyphosate resistant biotypes, they implement a “double knock” herbicide application. This is an application of glyphosate followed by an application of paraquat five days later. They have wild oats (Avena fatua), but they are not an issue. A typical cereal herbicide application in-crop is Paradigm + 2,4-D.
Other pests include snails and slugs, which feed on plant matter making establishment of things like canola difficult. They can also be found in grain samples. These pests are controlled early season using bait. 
Soil Type
Soils were very variable, and changed region to region, paddock to paddock and even within paddocks. For example, in the Horsham area, there were sandy soils where farmers would apply clay to improve it in contrast to soils with too much clay where they would apply gypsum to improve water drainage. Other soil types I saw included volcanic formed, buckshot (pebbles throughout) soil in Ballarat and red loam soil in Cobram. 
Buckshot soil.
Loam soil.
Livestock and the Use of Animal Grazing
Lots of the farms are mixed operations, primarily sheep, and make use of animal grazing. They will graze the stubble after harvest, stands of alfalfa and clover, as well as specific grazing varieties of canola and wheat. These are seeded earlier than regular winter varieties, usually in March, grazed for a couple months before allowing them to finish their growth cycle and harvest. While in Tooma, where cattle are more popular, we saw exclusion fences. These are 1.6 m tall with five hot wires and are double the cost of a normal fence. The specific farm we were visiting is surrounded by national park on three sides and have a high population of deer and kangaroos. By using exclusion fences they can increase stock rates by 30% as they prevent unwanted visitors from grazing.
Grazing wheat.
Grazing wheat.
Grazing canola.
Exclusion fence.
Personal Highlights
Some of my non-ag highlights included country horse races in Murtoa, exploring Melbourne, and climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. 
This exchange was an experience of a lifetime, and I’m so grateful I was able to participate. The people of Australia were so kind, and I hope to go back soon and see more of the country. Thanks to all who made this possible, including the crew at AgLink Canada, AgLink Australia, Western Ag and AgNVet Services.

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