Working on risk management

Michael Moodie.MALLEE Sustainable Farming (MSFP) agronomist Michael Moodie believes the key to successful farming in the low rainfall zones of the group’s catchment area across eastern SA, south-west NSW and north-west Victoria is risk management.

He said there was a strong possibility of a changing climate, including hotter and drier conditions, so farmers had to plan for that and mitigate its impacts.

“The idea is to best capture as much of a season’s potential upside, while minimizing losses in a bad year,” he said, speaking at a recent MSFP field day at Ouyen.

Mr Moodie said farming practices such as earlier sowing dates, shorter season varieties and reduced sowing rates could all be used to cut the risk of crop failure.

However, while he said that cutting sowing rates, and plant numbers per square metre, was a good risk management strategy, he also warned growers against cutting rates too far.

“The question has to be asked, how low can you go?”

“You don’t want to limit yourself on the upside should the season pan out favourably.”

Mr Moodie said farmers should not simply lock into one variety, but spread their risk over different maturity dates.

“Early maturing varieties such as Axe are less exposed to spring droughts and late heatwaves, but on the other hand, longer season lines such as Estoc and Yitpi will be better yielding in average years and are less prone to spring frost damage.

“The idea is to mix sowing dates among the various varieties with different maturity dates, so plant some of the longer season varieties, go into some shorter season stuff and then back into longer season lines.

“You’ve then got a range of maturities and flowering dates to spread the risk of frost and heat damage in spring.”

Nitrogen application in the Mallee has already adapted to mitigate risk, with much of the urea being top-dressed in-crop, rather than pre-drilled, so farmers had a clearer idea of seasonal prospects when making nutrition decisions.

Mr Moodie said farmers did not have to think just of the negatives of climate change.

“Projections suggest that climate change will actually increase the yields of lines like Axe, with the plant able to use the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and if it gets warmer and less prone to spring frosts, that would also be a positive.”

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