Charles Brett, who has grain farms in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, is focused on producing high-protein wheat targeted to Asian market needs.
PHOTO: Nicole Baxter
While Charles Brett says last season was dry and disappointing on his New South Wales farm west of Moree, production on his Queensland farm was solid, enabling him to still meet all his business targets.
Charles owns one farm at Bullarah in northern NSW and another farm north of Toobeah, west of Goondiwindi, in southern Queensland. He and his wife Fiona acquired the Queensland property a decade ago to fortify their business against downside risk resulting from what had become the climatic ‘norm’ – wildly fluctuating seasonal conditions.
For the past three years, the Brett family has only planted a third of its arable land because of limited stored soil moisture, forcing them to think hard about production expenditure to maximise the return on their investments.
At his NSW property, Charles says the Sunzell yield was disappointing, averaging two tonnes per hectare at 15.5 per cent protein. However, the Queensland yields were more pleasing, averaging 3.2t/ha at 12.5 per cent protein.
Charles aims to grow high-protein wheat, which he delivers to premium-quality Asian markets via the container trade, outside very high basis years.
He rotates his wheat with chickpeas and cotton or sorghum when seasons allow, but was disappointed with the capacity of PBA HatTrick to yield in what transpired to be challenging conditions in 2015.
“Last year we had prolonged cold weather, which caused the chickpeas to abort six to seven positions, and when the temperature warmed it became very hot very quickly, resulting in a limited window to finish the crop,” Charles says. “Perhaps this ‘early flowering window’ is an area breeders need to target going forward.”
Charles and Fiona’s son Hamish, 25, recently returned to the farm to run the business, freeing Charles to increase the time he devotes to off-farm interests, an investment he hopes will deliver tangible benefits to local growers and the broader grain-growing community.
As well as being on the board of the Narrabri Plant Breeding Institute, Charles has joined with four other growers in his area to form a co-operative called Grower Co-operative Limited (GrowerCo) in a bid to reduce freight costs in the supply chain.
He says freight from his farm to port comprises about a third of his costs, which could be reduced by lifting supply chain efficiency. GrowerCo is intent on working with others in the supply chain to investigate how efficiencies can be achieved to reduce these freight costs, and thereby return savings back to growers at the farm-gate.
“We estimate that with volume and a coordinated multi-user approach, we could potentially reduce freight costs by about $20/tonne,” Charles says.
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