AT THE START of the decade there were claims that the practice of burning stubbles would be virtually obsolete.
It is now 2018 and the need to lower the numbers of pests such as slugs, snails and mice, along with managing heavy stubbles for ease of seeding and the desire to bring down the weed seed bank mean that burning off remains as popular as ever.
Scott Hutchings, senior agronomist with Cox Rural at Keith, in South Australia’s Upper South East, said after three dry years from 2014-16, many in the area said burning was finished.
“We then have had a couple of better years and farmers are once again burning, primarily to control snails, but also to keep mouse numbers in check,” Mr Hutchings said.
As with all things in the cropping sector, however, techniques have evolved.
“There is a lot more narrow windrow burning done now, the research from WA has shown it has advantages and people are working on it,” he said.
“It requires a little bit of expertise to get right in terms of header set up, but getting the row there allows a hotter burn which in turn is more effective in getting rid of ryegrass seed.”
At Hamilton, in Victoria’s Western District, Landmark agronomist Bryce Headlam said burning off had always been popular in his region.
“We don’t necessarily have a lot of options in terms of allowing us to control slugs and burning off works well for this.”
He said this year there was once again a strong burning program, although some growers had been hindered by council fire restrictions remaining in place.
“People would like to get in and plant canola from now on but in some cases they haven’t had the chance to burn as yet.”
Mr Hutchings said an above average harvest meant there had been a solid burning program in his area as well.
“There probably isn’t as much country being burnt as last year, mainly due to the fact we’ve had a dry summer and that has run down the stubbles meaning there isn’t the need to burn in all instances, but burning levels would still be above the historic average.”
Mr Hutchings said the narrow windrow set up was good in controlling snails but not so good with mice.
“With snails, they are mainly living under cover in the windrow anyway, so it is quite effective, whereas the mice are spread out a bit more,” he said.
“However, you are getting rid of a lot of the feed source for mice so it still has a benefit in terms of mouse control as well.”
He said the risks with burning were that it exposed the paddock to erosion.
“If we don’t get rain relatively quickly and we get some windy weather, the paddocks are pretty bare and can blow a bit,” he said.