AFTER a long, drawn out summer cropping season, the end is finally in sight for Nombi farmer Ross Durham who has harvested his first cotton crop in more than 20 years.
"We're just in the back end of it now, with a couple of days to go," he said.
"The picker's quite happy, although it's not picking as clean as it could. But that's just a sign of the year and everyone's experiencing that.
"Given the year that we've had, we're quite pleased with the way it's been picking, at about six bales a hectare unginned, which I think will be a worthwhile result in the end."
Mr Durham farms 1840ha at Nombi, Araluen and Ballycale, near Nombi, south west of Mullaley.
He grows about 1500 hectares of dryland winter cereal, legume and oilseed crops and summer crops and provides agistment for a neighbour's cattle.
Mr Durham sold all his own stock during the drought to ensure groundcover was retained on sloping ground.
"I'm thankful I did do that," he said. "I'm sorry I didn't buy back in but gosh, hindsight wins at the races every day doesn't it!"
Soils are mostly self-mulching, soft chocolate loam going down into some heavier black clay and they're prone to erosion, so Mr Durham does his best to manage runoff.
I'm sorry I didn't buy back in but gosh, hindsight wins at the races every day doesn't it!- Ross Durham, Nombi.
The farms have been governed along no-till principles for 20 years, with the occasional strategic cultivation, and machinery is operated on three-metre tram lines. This caters for the 9m planting and harvesting gear as well as that of neighbours and contractors who share the load at busy times.
Average annual rainfall is 600mm, although, like much of the state, the past eight months has been extremely wet.
The March total of 272mm set a new record for the highest March total in 129 years, and the first half of this year has delivered the equivalent of a full year's rainfall.
Not only did that hamper picking of the Sicot 746B3F cotton, but it also delayed seeding of this year's winter crops by a month or more.
Mr Durham has planted Pioneer 44Y94 CL and Pioneer 45Y95 CL canola, as well as DBA Binderoi and DBA Lillaroi durum wheat, and is bulking up seed of a new variety, DBA Mataroi.
"We do grow legumes when time and markets suit us," he said.
"We like to have them in the rotation, but we haven't this year because some things didn't play out."
After the usual program of summer weed control, anhydrous ammonia at 100kg/ha was applied in late April ahead of sowing.
The wheat was sown into canola stubble at a seeding rate of 50kg/ha with Supreme Z starter fertiliser at 40kg/ha using an Excel parallelogram planter set up with double discs on 375mm row spacings.
Mr Durham said he had allowed for at least one application of Prosaro at 300ml/ha in early September to guard against fusarium head blight, which can be a problem in durum wheats.
"It's proven to be a bit of a yield advantage as well," he said. "If seasonal conditions change for the worse, we may have to consider a second one, but at this point in time, we've just got one locked in."
Herbicide will be sprayed to manage broadleaf weeds such as milk thistle, field bindweed and fleabane in late winter or early spring.
Mr Durham said his wheat crops had averaged about 4.5t/ha during the past 20 years.
"We target 5t/ha and minimum protein of 13 per cent when we're doing our fertiliser budget," he said.
"If the season's looking good, we'll definitely kick the top dressing in, probably by plane. Given we've got a full profile, with reasonable rain events through the growing season we can expect an average to above average crop."
Last year's DBA Bindaroi wheat was a winner - judged the best in the district and runner-up at state in the ASC-Suncorp Bank Championship.
The crop yielded 7.1t/ha and amassed 211 points, just two points behind the winning entry from Namoi Pty Ltd, Quirindi.
Harvest is a communal affair with Mr Durham, staff, contractors and neighbours working together to bring in grain ahead of weather events.
"Good crops don't happen from one person," he said. "I've also had a lot of support from agronomist Jim Hunt and family and friends over the years."
Mr Durham sells up to half his grain directly into the system, while the rest is stored on farm.
"It was really quite a challenging harvest last year because we still had some canola and faba beans in storage," he said. "We just had to be a bit careful in how we managed the wheat."
Mr Durham said he was grateful to get some of last year's wheat off before rain with the aid of a header from a neighbour whose crops weren't ready.
"We were fortunate on that particular day, we were able to peel off quite a bit and sell it to a local mill, which is really pleasing. But the vast majority of our crop was subjected to that November rain."
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