A year makes all the difference at Birchip

A year makes all the difference to crop prospects in Victorian Mallee

Grains
Birchip farmer and Birchip Cropping Group chairman John Ferrier is looking forward to harvest this year after a disappointing season in 2018.

Birchip farmer and Birchip Cropping Group chairman John Ferrier is looking forward to harvest this year after a disappointing season in 2018.

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Farmers who need their faith restored that it will ever rain again need look no further than the Mallee, where prospects have turned around.

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FOR MANY drought-weary farmers in Queensland, NSW and parts of Victoria and South Australia it feels like it is never going to rain again.

After watching front after front fizzle and fail to deliver the rain necessary to get back on their feet many now are not even bothering to check the forecast.

However, a farming district in Victoria is proof that the wheel can turn.

This time last year the southern Mallee region centred on Birchip was also drought stricken.

Crops suffered from well below average rainfall and did not even put on sufficient biomass to be cut for hay, which was the saviour for many other drought-hit Victorian croppers last year.

"In the cereals we saw good crops going 1 tonne to the hectare, with plenty below that, while the canola was 0.3-0.5t/ha on average, it was not a great year," said Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) chairman John Ferrier, who farms to the north of the township.

To add insult to injury after not being able to buy a drop of growing season rainfall (GSR) there was then a record December downpour of up to 200mm that caused downgrading of what little crop there was and even resulted in flooding that killed valuable livestock.

It was a suitably ironic end to a year all in the district would rather forget.

However, Mr Ferrier said there was a silver lining in the rain.

"It was a nuisance at the time but that rain really set up the 2019 season."

As a traditionally Mediterranean region with winter active rainfall the emphasis on storing moisture over summer in the Mallee was not regarded as a high priority.

All that has changed over the past decade with more frequent summer storms and declining GSR meaning growers are looking to conserve every drop of moisture they can.

The area immediately around Birchip is ideally suited to storing moisture.

"The soil in the Birchip area is heavier than most of the Mallee which can be a problem when there is limited moisture available, but on the flip side it does store summer rain well."

This year the summer rain, combined with good falls through autumn and early winter, set the crop up strongly enough to be able to contend with yet another poor spring.

With harvest looming fast and barley crops turning at present Mr Ferrier is confident of good results.

"I am optimistic we could see barley at 4t/ha, wheat at 3.5t/ha and canola at 2t/ha and the ability to be able to tap into that subsoil moisture has been critical in that."

He said this was borne out by comparing crops on similar soil types to the east, where they did not receive the summer rainfall.

"The yield potential really falls away quite quickly, so we know we have been really lucky.

"After the poor year last year it is nice to be looking forward to harvest and hopefully those that have suffered with the drought this year will see the same sort of turnaround we have."

The story A year makes all the difference at Birchip first appeared on Farm Online.

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