Record-breaking canola crop credited to science

CSIRO gets the nod for a cropping technique that delivered an Australian record 7.16 tonnes/hectare canola harvest on a NSW farm
Shown here with a windrow of canola are from left to right, John Kirkegaard of CSIRO Agriculture and Food, James Cheetham from Delta Agriculture and Peter Brooks of Princess Pastoral Co

Peter Brooks, who manages the “Mayfield” farm owned by the Hawkins family at Oberon, NSW, says the record harvest was the result of more than a decade of working closely with CSIRO, backed by Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) investment, to develop the dual-purpose canola cropping system.

“In 2019 the farm was heavily in drought and practically a dustbowl, so this is beyond our wildest expectations,” Mr Brooks said.

“We’ve had great conditions in 2020 but achieving this yield didn’t happen overnight – it was a culmination of 15 years of working with CSIRO to improve our systems.

“We followed what the science said we should do to improve our enterprise, and it all came together last year.”

CSIRO farming systems researcher Dr John Kirkegaard said that what made the record crop extra remarkable was that 20 lambs per hectare had grazed it for eight weeks earlier in the growing cycle – hence the “dual-purpose” between feeding livestock and growing a crop.

“An event like this is a mixture of bold science meeting excellent agronomy, and brave farming to push the envelope,” Dr Kirkegaard said.

“Grazing the crop in winter provides income early in the season and when managed carefully comes at no cost to grain yield.

“But to achieve significant grazing and a record-breaking yield is remarkable and a credit to Peter, his on-site manager Troy Fitzpatrick and the rest of their team.”

Farm agronomist James Cheetham from Delta Agribusiness consulted with Peter Brooks and the team at Mayfield and said the crop of Hyola970CL winter canola was sown early into a strong paddock.

It had a very good recovery from grazing with ideal growing conditions.

“Dual-purpose crops also help farms to manage their operations during times of drought, due to the extra winter feed which forms a significant part of farm revenue,” Mr Cheetham said.

“What we’ve found exciting from an agronomic perspective is that this occurred in a region where canola isn’t very common, and it could provide inspiration for a lot more farmers to grow dual-purpose canola.”

Dual purpose crops reduce the need for additional off-farm feed to be purchased, while resting pastures traditionally grazed by livestock.

This allows a farm to better utilise its on-farm resources, without depleting them – enabling quicker recovery from events such as drought.

An economic analysis of dual-purpose cropping found that businesses can benefit by $100-$200 per farm hectare due to grain income and increased autumn and winter grazing while pastures are spelled.

These additional gains are transforming farm incomes and moving many farmers towards mixed-enterprise farming operations.

The previous Australian record saw a Tasmanian farmer harvest 6.17 tonnes/hectare in 2017. In 2020 an English farmer recorded 7.19 tonnes/hectare to claim the world record.

Dual-purpose crop research is currently part of the GRDC Farming Systems project in southern NSW, and Dr Kirkegaard also contributes to the GRDC-funded Hyper Yielding Crops project managed by FAR Australia on behalf of GRDC which has a focus on the agronomy of high-yielding crops.

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