Tough sorghum means business as usual for Dalby Bio-Refinery growers

Tough sorghum means business as usual for Dalby Bio-Refinery growers

Planting sorghum that could handle tough conditions allowed Western Darling Downs growers Shane and Sharon McKenna to deliver 2017’s harvest to the Dalby Bio-Refinery without a hitch.

Their crop of MR-Bazley was grown amid extreme weather conditions, including just 100mm of growing season rainfall and prolonged periods of temperatures above 42 degrees.

The variety, bred with excellent pre and post flowering stress tolerances, still managed to produce their long-term average sorghum yield.

“Our home block received 130mm of in-crop rain, and Boxtree Park where the Bazley was grown had 100mm, so to get our average sorghum yield of 4/tha in one of the toughest season’s we’ve had was nice,” Mr McKenna said.

Shane and Sharon, along with daughters Alanah and Kayla, crop about 1400ha a year across their own blocks, lease country and other farmers’ properties as part of their planting and fertiliser contracting services.

Their main summer crop is sorghum and their winter program consists of wheat, barley and chickpeas.

In the 2016-17 season, they planted 310ha of sorghum in total, with 130ha to MR-Bazley.

The MR-Bazley joined 120ha of another variety on ground fallow out of sorghum at Boxtree Park, while 60ha of sorghum was planted on long fallow out of wheat on their home block.

The growers prefer to split their planting across one main plant and one later plant, reducing their risk and making harvest a less onerous job, but last season did not allow this, with all sorghum planted in mid-October.

They sowed at 45,000 seeds/ha on 1m row spacing using a John Deere MaxEmerge, sprayed weeds with a Spra Coupe and harvested with a Case header.

The crop was harvested from late-February to early March 2017.

Mr McKenna said they have been growing sorghum for the refinery since 2009, a year after it opened its doors as Australia’s first grains-to-ethanol plant.

“The plant is convenient for producers on the Downs.

“It’s just the two of us doing the farming here, so we can run our truck half-an-hour down the road, which gives us good turnaround times and keeps the freight costs down.”

He said about 95pc of their sorghum ends up at the plant now, with tonnage contracts either negotiated before or after harvest.

Prices offered are similar to those from grain merchants and 850t of silo storage helps them with their grain marketing throughout the year.

According to United Petroleum, the plant converts nearly 200,000 tonnes of sorghum into 76 million litres of fuel ethanol a year.

It also produces beef and dairy feed in the form of 180,000 tonnes of wet cake or Wet Distiller Grain (WDG), which may be dried further to produce Dried Distillers Grain (DDG).

Alanah and Kayla also help out at harvest, driving the chaser bin if time allows.

Looking to this season, Mr McKenna is going to plant more MR-Bazley.

“I’ll have MR-Bazley in for sure and probably MR-Apollo for a longer season variety.”

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Image: Shane and Sharon McKenna