A COOL breeze catches a handful of loose soil, dragging it across the field as a wall of clouds roll in toward Yeelanna, bringing much needed rain.
Local crop farmer Chad Glover is in the middle of sowing 800 hectares of what, he hopes, will be another successful wheat crop.
He’s already planted 380h of canola and another 320h of lentils after receiving 40mm of much-needed rain a couple of weeks ago.
“I’m flat out sowing at the moment, it’s been a busy couple of weeks,” he says from his seat of the tractor.
The family has been farming the region for the past 112 years with Chad taking over operations on the property 25 years ago.
He knows this land like the back of his hand and doesn’t rely on long-range forecasts to decide when to plant.
“Our rainfall was absolutely shocking last year when we didn’t have any rain between February and June and had to rely on subsoil moisture,” Chad said, adding he breathed a sigh of relief eight weeks after seeding to find his crop sprouting.
“Relying on that retained moisture, we were able to nearly hit our average crop yield.
Farmers in the lower Eyre Peninsula rely almost solely on winter rainfall instead of installing irrigation and Chad is no exception.
“This year, we’ve had that April rainfall so it won’t be so tough and we now, from last season, have confidence in our subsoil moisture and in knowing we can dry sow and crops will still be able to thrive.”
Covering more than 475,000 hectares, the lower Eyre Peninsula is renowned for its pristine coastlines and quality cropping districts.
The 2018 winter will see a variety of large-scale grain and pulse crops including wheat, durum, barley, oats, lupins, faba beans, chickpeas, lentils and canola grow to maturity before being harvested for export.
On average, the state generates a whopping 5.27 million tonnes of grain which is exported to a number of countries, including China, Asia and the Middle East via Port Lincoln.
The well-established industry is currently prohibited from cultivating genetically modified food crops with regulations coming under review next year.
Although South Australian cereal crops contribute to about 18 per cent of the nations grain production, generating more than $4.6 billion from the commodity and processed products, the soil in the area is generally lacking in vital nutrients with soil management at the forefront of many cropping operations.
Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) reported farmers had spread more lime than normal this season to ameliorate soil acidity with Chad ensuring consistent pH testing across each paddock.
“The soil in this area is very heavy, there’s a lot more clay with minimal areas of sandy loam and there are some where the roots won’t be able to get through the soil to the moisture so we try and manage that by incorporating lime and gypsum where necessary.”
The 2018 Crop and Pasture report from PIRSA has also documented that, while livestock numbers in the Lower Eyre region are still low, some farmers have begun to invest in sheep and cattle due to increased prices.
With pasture and stubble crops recording lower than average yields, many will be turning to supplementary feeding during the winter months.
Landmark Cummins team member Kris Speed said increasing yield and managing season variables was at the forefront to many cropping operations coming into the 2018 winter season.
“Our farmers are a bit over 50 per cent through their planting seed programs in the region,” Kris said.
Kris said the majority of farmers in the Lower Eyre Peninsula choose to plant canola out first, followed by cereal crops before finishing with lentils, peas, faba beans and a few chickpeas .
“They will do this as part of their canopy management strategy to reduce disease potential later on the in season.”
Although the area around Cummins has been graced with rain at the start of May, Kris said the northern and eastern parts of the peninsula have only seen minimal events, recording as little as 4mm in the last couple of months.
“We’ve been very grateful for the rain which will help our crops germinate and we’re hopeful our neighbouring regions will have the same fortune coming in to winter.”
Kris urged farmers to be on the look-out for mice and snail numbers, along with encroaching weeds, to avoid damage to the incoming crops.
“We’re asking farmers to continue monitoring the numbers of mice in some parts of the region along with tackling marshmallow and rye grass in their crops as early in the season as they can.”
Kris said crop farmers in the Lower Eyre region are remaining hopeful that the prices will remain strong coming in to harvest later in the year.
While growers are unable to lock in significant quantities of expected grain at this stage of the season, wheat, barley and canola prices are currently at promising levels.