Cereal & Oilseed Crops
Cereals are the bread and butter (well bread maybe!) of cropping in the Felton Valley.
In winter, a drive through the Valley will reveal paddocks of wheat and barley with the odd crop of canary (back to that one in a minute). Oats will also be grown as a grazing crop for cattle and for making hay.
Around 7,000t of wheat is produced annually at Felton. It is planted in June/July and harvested in November/December. Most years, the wheat grown is of suitable quality to be milled into flour and made into Asian breads and noodles, Middle Eastern style flat breads, Chinese steamed products and European pan breads, requiring it to be exported out of Australia. However, because there are a large number of intensive animal industries on the Darling Downs, milling quality wheat is often sold for similar money straight into cattle feedlots or for layer hens.
Similarly, barley is largely grown for stock feed. Occasionally, a paddock of barley may have the qualities suitable for being made into malt, in which case the end products of beer and milo would be familiar to all. Around 3,000t of barley is grown each year at Felton.
Canary is a niche crop that can be worth $300 per tonne one year and $1,100 the next. Surprise, surprise, it is a bird seed. Care must be taken when harvesting however, as incorrect machine settings can result in the skin of the seed being removed, revealing a brown seed that birds will not eat!
Summer cereal growing is dominated by sorghum, that until recently has been used primarily for stockfeed. It is a major component of dog biscuits and is steamed and flaked for use in cattle feedlot rations. In the past 4 or 5 years, Australia has been exporting sorghum to China for production of an alcoholic spirit named “Baijiu”. Sorghum is also developing as an important grain for those with gluten intolerances. Sorghum is planted from late September to December and harvested from March to May. The grain can either be red or white. Around 30,000t of sorghum is grown at Felton each year – that’s over 1000 semi-trailer loads.
Maize or corn is grown for stockfeed and human consumption. Gritting corns are processed into products such as cornflakes and cornchips, and growers often have long term supply relationships with food manufacturers such as Kellogg for these products. Maize is the longest summer crop from planting to harvest, taking up to seven months to grow. Relative to sorghum, corn is a relatively minor crop for Felton with around 2,500t grown.
A variety of millets are also grown over the summer period. White French, Panorama and Japanese millets are grown in small quantities to be incorporated into bird seed products. Some millet is also used for human consumption.
Winter growing oilseeds include canola and linseed, and are grown by only a couple of farmers. Canola, with its brilliant yellow flowers, produces a pod of small black seeds that contain around 40% oil. After extraction of the oil, a high protein meal remains that is incorporated into animal feed products. Until recently, the closest market for canola was Newcastle which incurred a freight bill of $65/t. Canola is now used whole as a supplement in stock feed, so more local markets are now available. New varieties have been developed with a shorter growing season (which means a quicker time from planting to harvest), and these varieties are far more suitable for the Felton Valley.
Linseed was widely grown on the Darling Downs 50 years ago, but has had a resurgence due to its inclusion in human health foods e.g. soy and linseed breads, LSA (linseed, sunflower & almond meal). There is still a market for the oil, but the small amount that is grown in the Felton Valley is sold for human consumption.
Summer growing oilseeds include sunflowers, soybeans and peanuts.
Soybeans, while a legume, are actually considered an oilseed. They are not widely grown in the area but do have a wide range of end uses. They can be transformed into oil, tofu, and milk or fermented to make soysauce. The soybean meal is then used as a protein source in animal feeds. One local grower is involved in the production of soybean seed crops.
Peanuts are grown and processed in nearby Clifton. Peanuts are ideally grown in red soils that allow the plants to be pulled from the soil at harvest, with the peanut shells still attached to the roots! Peanuts, like soybeans are legumes, but because of their high oil content, are classified as an oilseed. Clifton Peanut Company grows their own peanuts but also clean, grade and pack product for other growers from Queensland and New South Wales.
Sunflowers are by far, one of the most spectacular crops in our landscape. Any crop nearby a road is sure to attract many photographers, but sadly sunflowers are also very appealing to pest birds including white cockatoos and corellas. Around 1,000t of sunflowers are grown at Felton every year, but like all crops, this amount will vary according to the expected price received. Different sunflower varieties have different end uses. Grey Stripe sunflowers are lower in oil and are grown for birdseed, whereas the majority grown in this district are used for oil extraction or for inclusion in the diets of horses. Feeding high oil sunflowers to birds may cause their feathers to fall out! Sunflower kernels are extracted from a different variety again. Early crops of sunflowers are planted in August while late crops will be planted in January. In contrast to their flowering beauty, they turn a ghastly black prior to harvest.