AN ancient method of grain storage perfected by the Egyptians four centuries ago has helped Southern Cross farmer Phillip Della Bosca through one of the worst droughts on record.
Due to the exceptionally dry conditions, Mr Della Bosca has dug up a reserve of oats buried by his late father Ted in 1978.
It was in excellent condition and he planned to use it as feed to maintain his Merino flock through the summer.
He said it was a simple method that could provide farmers with some back-up in dry years.
"We had three droughts in a row, in 75, 76 and 77," Mr Della Bosca said.
"And having to buy in stock feed for those years, my father the late Ted Della Bosca and his three sons started a drought feed reserve by burying oats in 6' deep, 12' wide and 25' long pits (1.8m x 3.6m x 7.3m) lined with black poly plastic.
"We covered them with clay to stop the water getting in.
"The first of these was put down in 1978 ‹ which was an exceptional year.
"Oat prices were nothing to write home about, we had a 12-bag crop and the work of three droughts was still fresh.
"It was either buy large silos or do as the Egyptians had done 4000 years ago and bury cheaply with the intention of leaving there for the long term."
Mr Della Bosca said he had used most of hay and grain last winter.
"We fed out over 600 half-tonne bales of hay, 40t oats, 30t seconds wheat, barley and lupins plus 20t graded lupins, to keep our 4500 merino flock sustained until shearing in July 2002," he said.
"We have sold all our wether hoggets and wether lambs and 1500 ewes ‹ 1200 of these were breeding ewes which would have been kept for another two years.
"We had only 113mm for the year until October 22. We have had to agist 600 ewe lambs and 400 ewes since July and a further 300 ewes since September.
"With only 1400 ewes on the farm and the prospect of no oats or lupins from this years failed crops, I decided to dig up the last pit of oats.
"When we dug them up, they were in as good as when we buried them."