The yields of ‘break crops’ are more important to farm incomes with higher prices for some non-cereal crops. In 2017, 22.5 million hectares were sown to winter crops. Over 20% – 4.7 million ha – were non-cereals. In the period leading up until 2011, break crops were around 14% of the winter crop area. It seems that break crops are becoming less of a ‘break’, and more part of diverse and profitable cropping systems.
The traditional view is that break crops are anything other than wheat, oats, barley or triticale. Field peas, chickpeas, faba beans, lentils, lupins and canola are included in break crops.
Growing a break crop in rotation with wheat has been standard practice for years. This has helped manage pests, diseases and weeds. A lot of break crop research focusses on how the break crop influences future wheat crops, especially the nitrogen contribution from legume crops.
For decades, Australian grain research has focused on wheat. There’s a lot of research data describing the response of wheat to fertiliser across different Australian grains regions. The Better Fertiliser Decisions for Crops interrogator tool, which underpins evidence based crop nutrition practice in Australia, collates all this data.
All up, we have less fertiliser trial data from break crops compared to wheat. The soil test critical values, that predict response to fertiliser for N,P, K and S in break crops, are less clear. Similarly, tissue testing levels that indicate trace element deficiencies worth treating are less well understood.
We are on a learning curve for break crop nutrition requirements. The research effort to support crop nutrient decisions for break crops will be a while catching up with the growing importance of break crops in farm economics. Sharing what we see and learn in the paddocks can help bridge the knowledge gap.
If you’re growing or advising on a break crop this season, tweet photos and ask questions. How are your break crops going? If you think there might be crop nutrition issues we’re happy to discuss, here and on twitter as @aucropnutrition.
Nutrient test strips in the paddock are an excellent way to check if certain nutrients need a boost. Let us know if you have tried nutrient test strip and how it’s worked out through the season.