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 last summer’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

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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