A tough species of farmer

Looking at a rainfall map you’d imagine it would be a tale of woe in the Mallee.

LOOKING at the rainfall map for north-west Victoria you’d imagine it would be a widespread tale of woe this harvest.

There were plenty of areas that had decile 1 and 2 growing season rainfall, normally a sure-fire recipe for disaster in an area that needs all the moisture it can get.

Yet things have not been quite as bad as they could be. The areas that received the least rain, less than 100mm growing season rainfall (GSR) are struggling, sure, but even there, its simply amazing to see reports of wheat going two tonnes to the hectare.

You have to take your hats off to Mallee grain producers for adopting cropping techniques that allow them to make the most of every last drop of rain.

Think back 20 years ago, when cultivation and a conservative, late sowing date were the norm.

Any crops planted this way would be doomed in a dry year such as this – there are examples around of how tough late-sown crops did it.

Instead, necessity has meant Mallee farmers have become early adapters in terms of no-till systems, stubble retention and summer spraying.

Once upon a time, summer spraying was regarded as chore that may or may not be done, depending on whether the family was heading to the beach.

Now its done so religiously, many farm outfits have one person on the harvester and the other on the sprayer if there is harvest rain, in a bid to store moisture for the following season.

With all the doom and gloom about the viability of cropping in the face of climate change during the drought of the 2000s, its nice to see what improved farming techniques can do to minimise risk in dry years.

We now look at the rainfall figures from years that had cataclysmic results on yields such as 2002 and 2006 and think that while we would not have burst the bins, we probably could grow a crop on it now.

It’s difficult farming in some of the most arid cropping land in the world, but just like our native flora and fauna it has meant that those that do survive in the harsh environment are tough and adaptable.

If this is what can be done on virtually negligible rainfall, then the Mallee farmer is far from an endangered species as yet.

Gregor Heard

Gregor Heard

is the national grains writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Grain of TruthRural Press grains writer Gregor Heard on the big issues facing the broadacre farmers today.


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