NORTH Star growers Ray and Nikki Price put their header away recently after a successful sorghum season despite six months of little rain in 'the golden triangle' agricultural region of northwest NSW.
Although the weather was beyond their control, the Prices employed several defensive strategies to prepare for a dry season.
"It was an exceptionally dry year. We planted in October, had 18mm in the months leading up to Christmas when 100mm fell, then 144mm in late January," Mr Price said.
The growers put their success down to planning; pointing to a combination of trials, rotations and technologies helping them reap nearly six tonnes per hectare in some areas at Ashton.
Being Pacific Seeds trial co-operators for 23 years, Ray and wife Nikki test the mainstay and upcoming varieties in small plots every season and decide on the best fit.
"Our territory manager in 1990 asked us to do a trial, and we haven't looked back," he said.
"The trials are a really good guide. Even though they're not perfect, we get a good look at the consistency of several varieties."
The family has been growing MR-Buster since its release 23 years ago, adopted Pacific MR43 when it hit the market, and added a new sorghum this season.
"We planted 460 hectares to three varieties to spread the risk," Mr Price said.
"The Buster and MR43 have been performing out here for years, and we thought we'd give MR-Bazley a go," he said.
Mr Price planted the MR-Buster and Pacific MR43 on their long fallowed country and MR-Bazley on their sorghum-on-sorghum paddocks.
"All three varieties came up thin after planting, and considering the conditions the crops had to endure before Christmas and in early January, they have done remarkably well," he said.
The long fallowed area was tested at 5.8t/ha and the sorghum-on-sorghum area returned 3.8t/ha.
In addition to crop trials every year, Ashton also serves as a fertiliser testing ground.
Technology and equipment also played a key role in the season's success, with the operation acquiring a new planter and header over the past few years to boost efficiency.
"The header has a grain monitor and yield mapping built in, so we can conduct these fertiliser trials and harvest more efficiently," Mr Price said.
"We used to use the grain bins and that was hard on time and accuracy," he said.
Their fleet now consists of a John Deere 9670 header and a Boss Engineering planter.
The Boss was configured to plant 55,000 seeds per hectare on the sorghum-on-sorghum land and 70,000/ha on the long fallowed country, at row spacings of 76cm.
Chemical applications included Roundup at 1.5L/ha, Atrazine at 1.8kg/ha and Dual at 1L/ha.
With the header returned to the shed and the grain trucked off to Brisbane, the Prices were happy their plan worked.
"From having a poor start and practically no rain for three months, to getting our saving rain at Christmas and a solid yield at the end of it all, we can see the upside in a tough season," Mr Price said.
The Prices will trial sorghum again this summer and consider adding different varieties to their mix, but for now they are planning for chickpeas, and bread and durum wheat crops.
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