18 August, 2022
Atherton's golden crop pays dividends
AFTER taking a beating from Fall armyworms in their last couple of corn crops, Pompey Pezzelato and his family were looking for a low input, high return, rotational crop to plant after their peanuts for the 2022 season.
The swathe of golden bloom visible from State Route 52 between Atherton and Yungaburra is the product of those deliberations and if the healthy stand of plants and the busy hum of bees are anything to go by, it has been quite successful.
“I tried planting canola about 5-6 years ago and it went fairly well, there were just a few dramas with crop re-growth after we headed it,” Mr Pezellato said.
“This year's labour shortages and high planting costs made it a good time to have another look at it as an option.
“I started planting the first block in early May and planted the next 18 hectares after that 125mm of winter rain. Canola is a winter crop and thrives on the cold nights and cool days the Tablelands has been having.
“At this stage, production looks to be on track to achieve a healthy 2.5 tonnes per hectare, which is getting up there. They might do a little better down south, but we have only had to water it twice and we've had no real problems with disease.”
The crop has been pre-sold into a favourable market bolstered by the shortages of just about every common food source this year as a result of the Russian-Ukraine situation.
“We planted just over 30 hectares of the Blazer TT variety of canola, as it is the best one for this area. Not much canola has been planted this far north, but it has grown well and I am happy with the price,” Mr Pezellato said.
This crop is consigned to Advance Rural Atherton for use in their chicken meal product. Its high protein level of around 36 per cent, excellent amino acid profile and high vitamin and essential mineral content makes it a widely used food source for livestock, poultry and fish.
“Blazer TT is resistant to Atrizine which means we can apply herbicides to control the broadleaf weeds and grass. This field was planted in the first week of June and is currently in full bloom, which usually only lasts for a fourweek window,” Mr Pezellato said.
“The blossom will die off slowly and the seed will eventually turn black when it is ready to harvest. A local contract harvester will pick it using a machine used for collecting grass seed like brachiaria.
“Harvesting with this open front machine is not as efficient as the wind-rowing method used in the south. We end up losing a bit of seed, but its good enough for the time being.
“Prior to planting the canola, we just chopped our peanut trash into the paddock, seeded it with the spreader, harrowed and rolled it in.
“The canola's big tap root will loosen the soil for the next peanut crop. After heading, we will mulch the plants and plough them in before replanting peanuts by November/December.”
Meanwhile, Mr Pezzelato is looking forward to a good return on the 12 hectares of potatoes he has growing under irrigation as he said there weren't too many potatoes around this year.
“Grower numbers have dwindled from around 150 potato farmers decades ago, to just 6-7 this season. We will also have 2000 avocado trees producing by the end of the year, so hopefully that market improves a bit before the next harvest,” he said.
“It has been a terrific growing season this year, one of the best I have seen since we have been farming, but we have taken a bit of a hammering from the rats and water hens.”
Following nearly a century of farming by his family on the Tablelands over the generations, Mr Pezzelato said he was busier than ever.
He said staff shortages have had him going “eight days a week” to try and keep up.