10 of our best
GRAHAM Cook has run the mixed irrigation operations at “Turkey Lagoon” at Boggabilla near the Queensland border for a quarter of a century, following five generations of his family dating back to 1886.
Combining some hard-won advice handed down from his father with modern farming techniques and technology has helped Mr Cook achieve some outstanding results.
A century after the Cook family first walked on to “Turkey Lagoon” Mr Cook took charge of the property, using his deep links to the land to help shape his farming philosophy.
“I got a bit of advice from my old man, he told me the best fertiliser in your paddock is your own footsteps,” Mr Cook said.
“You have to know your own paddocks and farm before you can decide what to do on it.”
Mr Cook, with his wife Kylie farm 1800 hectares of mixed irrigation land in the heart of cotton country.
Irrigated cotton is the main crop, rotated with wheat, maize, sorghum and barley. The enterprise also runs beef cattle.
Faced with a sizeable repair task after flooding in 2011, the Cooks took the opportunity to look at ways to improve their irrigation results, and cut down siphon numbers and the associated labour cost.
Progress since then has been impressive.
“The yields we can achieve these days are astounding. In the 1980s we were looking at 4.5 bales a hectare. Nowadays we are chasing 12.4 bales,” Mr Cook said.
In 2012, the Cooks won the irrigated cotton and grower of the year awards for the Macintyre Valley with an average yield of 13.2 bales/ha.
“That was down to water efficiency, nutrition and better crop technology,” he said.
“Turkey Lagoon” is run as a strip-ped back, bare bones operation.
“When I came home after dad died in 1986 it took four of us to water 280ha and it would take 10 to 12 days to do it.
“Now, with two of us, we can water 490ha and we can do it easily and it’s really only a one-man operation.”
Mr Cook has installed bankless irrigation, lengthening his planting rows to 1400 metres to improve water efficiency and reduce tractor time and pumping costs.
Now about 120 megalitres of supply water a day can be pushed through the rows in just five hours by one person.
Irrigation channels were deepened and he installed better tail water systems “to get the water away quicker”.
All the irrigation blocks have been laser-levelled to remove the “ups and downs and slow patches in the paddock”.
Variable soil types across the farm posed a major production challenge so Mr Cook responded by introducing four different irrigation systems to suit.
“Bankless irrigation is new and obviously I am a fan of the system but it doesn’t suit all set ups,” he said.
“Where we originally wanted to put bankless irrigation in, we didn’t have enough side fall so we went back to irrigating with conventional siphons.
“Having a mix of irrigation types helps to spread the risk of what will work in any season and what will suit certain areas of the farm.”
The property has a mix of heavy black clay, light sandy clay, light sandy loam and some red-type soils.
“We put a lateral sprinkler on the heavier soil, to see if it improved
the use of that country rather than trying to get a flood over it,” Mr Cook said.
“Turkey Lagoon’s” irrigation systems include 140ha under lateral-move irrigators, 28ha under centre pivots, 110ha of bankless channel bays and 370ha of siphon irrigation.
“There is a slight benefit in water efficiency from the bankless system due to the fact it gets on and off the paddock quicker, but we don’t think there is a great deal.
“In the black soil we might irrigate on an eight or nine day turnaround, while on some of the lighter soil we might do a six to seven day turnaround.”
Mr Cook said attention to detail was the key to his water monitoring.
“We have had soil probes in the same spots for 10 years, to provide a history of what each soil type does and how you need to go about managing it.
“We also still do manual monitoring, pushing a probe into the ground to have a look at what is there.”
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