Mike grows a variety of crops for Kialla, including white sorghum, sunflower, hard wheat (high protein wheat best for breads) and soft wheat (low protein wheat suitable for cakes).
His 2400 hectares of organic farming land in Central Queensland has been in the family since 1963. At that time his father moved up from the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, where he’d been farming wheat. Mike now lives with his wife and two daughters on the farm outside Springsure.
Maize, sorghum and sunflowers are all annual summer crops planted in January. Mike will make the decision what to plant, and whether to plant anything at all, depending on whether he’s had any summer rain.
It will take maize about 4 months to grow, and about 5 months for the sorghum, and for the sunflowers to come into flower then dry off. They’re ready for harvest when the flower heads have drooped and died.
As it dies an annual plant will release it’s seed, and thus it’s time for harvest. It must be planted anew each year.
Wheats are grown in winter in Australia, then harvested around October or November after a 5 month growing period.
White sorghum yields very well in the climate of the area.
Maize can be a problematic crop to grow as it requires high moisture as well as high nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus content in the soil. It may be that maize is not a viable crop for Mike to grow over the long-term. He has also grown white maize for Kialla in the past, but the seeds for white maize are much more expensive, and its yields can be even lower, so it’s not a favourite among farmers.
Nitrogen can be returned to the soil by planting legume crops between the major crop cycles. Composting can also help return both nitrogen and potassium, while in conventional farming this would be done using industrially manufactured products.
As an example, phosphorus was traditionally added using natural rock phosphate, whereas now conventional farming uses ‘super phosphate’ and other industrial phosphates. These appear to present long-term problems for soil, and so organic farmers returned to using the naturally occurring rock phosphate, which is, as you would expect, less ‘efficient’ than the manufactured kind.
The quality of an organic farm’s yield can be influenced by a good knowledge of soil nutrition, although ultimately it always comes down to that variable, the weather, which no farmer can control!