Drought-stricken Wentworth producers hopeful

Wentworth producers look to the sky after receiving just 56 mils last year

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The Pollards received just 56 mils for the year in 2019.

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Greg Pollard, Wentworth in one of their drought feedlots with son Ben and grandchildren Cody, 7, Laney, 2 and Sonny, 5. Photo: Supplied

Greg Pollard, Wentworth in one of their drought feedlots with son Ben and grandchildren Cody, 7, Laney, 2 and Sonny, 5. Photo: Supplied

Parts of the state have seen generous rain over the last few months, but out west they're not out of the woods yet.

Greg Pollard and his son, Ben, run Merinos on their 30,000 hectare property, Warrananga Station, north-west of Wentworth.

Their average annual rainfall is 250 millimetres but in 2019 they received just 56mm for the year.

"It's just been terrible, I've been here all my life and I've never seen it as bad as this," Greg Pollard said.

"A lot of places are improving, there are people north of us, around Ivanhoe getting the rain now, but it's still patchy and anywhere from Broken Hill down to here isn't great."

To date this year, they've had 62mm, more than last year's total and with more forecast for this week.

"We've got a green pick on the sandy rises but another rain soon would be very important, then we might be on our way," Mr Pollard said.

The Pollards generally joined around 4000 to 5000 ewes but were down to 2900 head.

"We've been feeding sheep for two years," Mr Pollard said.

"We sent 1400 sheep up to Menindee on agistment in October and the others we put in a feedlot."

Wind has pushed over fences and created drift hills. Photo: Supplied

Wind has pushed over fences and created drift hills. Photo: Supplied

At the start of April they made the decision to bring their sheep back from Menindee to feed at home.

"We joined the ewes up there, they're due to lamb in May, but they were running out of feed, so we brought them back home."

Mr Pollard said they hoped they would be able to lamb out of the feedlots.

"If we could get a bit more rain we could put 100 sheep in 800 to 1000 hectare paddocks," he said.

Mr Pollard said last year was the worst lambing they'd had in his lifetime, at around 25 per cent.

"We always get 90 to 100 per cent every year but last year there just wasn't enough feed," he said.

But, this year was looking better, the ewes had just been scanned at 87 per cent, after the majority were joined in feedlots.

Mr Pollard said they sheared once a year in September.

"We produce around the 22 microns on average, we used to get 23 microns but the droughts had an impact," Mr Pollard said.

Wind and wildlife impact country

The Pollards generally crop around 2000 hectares for sheep feed and grain.

But in the past two years wildlife, along with lack of rain, had been a challenge.

"The kangaroos and emus ate us out both years, there were thousands of them," Mr Pollard said.

"Because there was no food in the paddocks they just came in in droves, consequentially we've got drift hills, fences pushed over."

The Pollards usually retain stubble to maintain ground cover, one of the first in the district to adopt the no till practice 15 years ago.

But, as they hadn't been able to grow anything the last couple of years, the wind had taken its toll.

"We've had terrific stubble retention in the past, not much drift at all, but this year has been horrifying, it's really cut the country up."

Digging out a trough in their feedlot which was covered in sand. Photo: Supplied.

Digging out a trough in their feedlot which was covered in sand. Photo: Supplied.

However, he said they were lucky enough to have a secure source of stock water, with 14 kilometres of Murray River frontage and access to the Darling Anabranch pipeline.

They have a centre pivot off the Murray which can irrigate 62 hectares.

"We have nearly all general security allocations so we've barely used the pivots for the last couple of years," Mr Pollard said.

"We put in the pivot in 1988 to drought proof the farm but no one told me general security allocations would be zero for two years.

"Water is miles too dear to buy in just to grow a bit of sheep feed."

But, not to be deterred they were giving the dryland crops another go this year, putting in oats and vetch for the sheep along with wheat and barley for grain.

"We're feeling positive and we're getting everything ready to go," he said.

UPDATE - Since this story was published the Pollards have received 32 mils of rain and are ecstatic about it.

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