Rain brings new hope after worst year on record

Burren Junction/Rowena growers hope for first decent crop in years after recent rain

Cropping
Heidi and John Stump of Windella Ag Co are hopeful 2020 may see them plant a prospective crop.

Heidi and John Stump of Windella Ag Co are hopeful 2020 may see them plant a prospective crop.

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2020 is starting promising for many drought-stricken regions.

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North West New South Wales growers have jump-started the batteries of their broadacre sprayers after recent rainfall sparked the potential for the first decent sowing opportunity in years.

An early break in the weather has already doubled last year's rainfall events around the Burren Junction and Rowena districts having battled unfavorable seasons since 2016.

Large scale cropping operation Windella Agriculture Company owned by John and Heidi Stump has received about 175 to 230 millimetres in 2020 and rejuvenated their cropping business.

The young couple haven't been able to plant their full cropping rotation since 2016 and last year they made the decision to "shut down" due to not getting the chance to plant when only 80 millimetres was recorded for 12 months.

It was the lowest yearly rainfall from records stretching back to 1937.

But in the ultimate contrast, the Windella team will begin a full fallow spraying program next week to prepare for a potential late April winter planting.

John and Heidi Stump.

John and Heidi Stump.

It is the first time in at least a year that their broadacre spray rigs will have been turned on.

"Speaking to my father, Ken, on the weekend, he said this is probably the most significant rainfall event he had ever seen in his farming career," Mr Stump said.

"Not that it was the biggest, but to come from where we were six weeks ago.

"As our best chance of summer rainfall is January and February, with not much forecast in December we were really starting to question whether we were in for another year (like 2019)."

Given the high water holding capacity of their country Mr Stump predicted the moisture profile could be at 60 to 80 per cent capacity in some areas but said follow up rainfall would be needed before any crop could be assured.

John, and Heidi Stump with their daughter Claudia.

John, and Heidi Stump with their daughter Claudia.

"I don't want anyone to think that we are out of trouble, by no means are we out of trouble, but it's just one step closer to being able to plant this year," he said.

"It's all to do with your risk profile really. A lot of people are pushed into a corner now and really just have to sow ... (but) these sort of events could prove to end up to be quite a costly exercise.

"Last year it was actually a very cheap year because we shut everything down so it ended up being quite a cheap way of running things."

The hive of machinery activity could be seen from the drive between Burren Junction and Narrabri where many growers had already raced into rural stores to secure spraying supplies.

Within town, word was abuzz that Nutrien Ag Solutions had sold up to 300 shuttles of Roundup and was searching to find more to meet the renewed demand.

The Land called to verify the information but was unable to get a response in time for deadline with growers encouraged to check with their local suppliers.

The spray rigs out of the shed for the first time in 12 months.

The spray rigs out of the shed for the first time in 12 months.

Agronomic consultant Greg Rummery said growers in the area had waited a long time to see rain like this and weed control programs would be their next focus.

"We have got rivers running and the whole mood in the district has changed which is tremendous but like all good droughts it will take more rain to bust it and we will be looking forward to a follow up here shortly," he said.

"Looking at the weeds that are trying to grow I'd say the recovery (of land) is going to be very good."

A winter crop could provide financial opportunity but developing ground cover is just as valuable to growers in the district.

Traditionally a five in one crop rotation using dryland cotton, the Stump's operation will now look to a seven in one rotation using dryland cotton, wheat, barley, chickpeas and faba beans.

John Stump with Windella Ag Co manager Johannes Hattingh.

John Stump with Windella Ag Co manager Johannes Hattingh.

This year they have thrown the rotation out and will increase their cereal sowing area from about 50 per cent to 80 per cent with the remainder to legumes to be able to capitalise on ground cover.

"We are going to be putting a large proportion to wheat and barley and the reason being is just to get good ground cover," Mr Stump said.

"Since 2016, the only areas that we have been able to plant on have been where we had cereals in 2016."

After reducing their staff base down to two people, the recent rain has already allowed the Stumps to employ new team members.

No matter what the future holds, Mr Stump said they would take a conservative approach this year including delaying any fertiliser decisions until in crop and getting back to basics.

"It's going to take a few years to get back on our feet and we will certainly appreciate the next crop we grow a lot more than any in the past," he said.

"In 2018 every single model was saying we were going to get four to six inches in June and we hadn't sown anything.

"We went out and we had four planters going and in 36 hours we planted 5000 acres. That was 36 hours out from the rain and we got three millimetres.

"In these tougher times it is very important to have a very good understanding of your financials and be able to just contain your overheads and shut down your spending."

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