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Growing great grains!

Date posted: 08 November 2013

Australian farmers have a global reputation for growing good quality malting barley. To find out how they do it we spoke with Peter Glover, one of South Australia’s largest grain producers.

Tell us a bit about your farm?

We are fortunate to live in a prime grain growing region near Yeelanna on the Eyre Peninsula. Our family has farmed in this area for 107 years!

What is your annual rainfall?

We receive around 400 mm of rain per year. We are lucky that the bulk of this falls within the barley growing period which is from April, when we sow the grain, to October, when the grain is heading and maturing. We are also lucky that our rainfall is quite reliable. This is handy for crop production as we, along with many grain farmers, do not irrigate the crop. We rely on rainfall events in the right quantity at the right time.

How much barley do you grow?

We grow around 7000 hectares of cereal crops. Around 1500 hectares of this is barley.

What makes your climate suitable for growing great grains?

Our region is ideal for grain production, as the sea on both sides of the peninsula helps buffer us from extreme weather conditions. Throughout the growing season we generally have a mild, Mediterranean climate. In October and November we have hot dry weather which is perfect for ripening and then drying the grain ready for harvest. This weather pattern is ideal for malting barley production.

What type of soils are on your farm?

Generally, we have soils which are a sandy loam over clay. The sandy layer is traditionally around 100 mm thick. Plants roots easily penetrate this soil. They tend to venture down to the clay level where water is held tightly between the clay particles.

What’s the secret to growing good barley?

Here are some tips which work for us:
  • We apply a moderate nitrogen fertiliser regime. Plants require nitrogen as it is essential for leaf growth – but too much and the protein content within the grain will become too high.
  • Good weed management is important as weeds compete with the plants for moisture. Weed seeds can also contaminate the grain when harvested.
  • Plant diseases must be monitored and controlled. For example, we have issues with aphids infecting our cereal crops. Aphids cause feeding damage and also transmit a disease called Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus. This damages the plant and affects our yields.
  • We are careful with our crop rotation system. You cannot just plant barley after barley after barley in the same paddock as this can encourage the build-up of diseases. Our rotation is generally wheat, canola, barley, beans or lupins then wheat. This works well for us.
  • Seeding technology is also important. We use a no till cropping system with GPS guidance. This means we can plant our crops in between the stubbles of last years crops, an important strategy for controlling erosion. Our knife point seeder helps us plant seeds at just the right depth at just the right distance apart. Our seeds are sown just below the surface in fact about 2.5 cm deep. The rows are 30 cm apart. Seeds within each row are 50 mm apart. This means we have around 150 plants per square meter!

Our final question to you – once you produce all this great grain where does it go?

Traditionally our malting barley is sold to Japan and China for beer production. We also have some which is sold to Joe White malting and used for beer production right here in SA.

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