Leaders in sustainable agriculture
GroundCover™ Issue: 32
The challenges of the Walgett climate continually exercise the minds of agronomists Greg Rummery and Brad Coleman and members of the Walgett Sustainable Agriculture Group (WSAG) they supervise.
The farmers in this group have set the pace in farming innovation around Walgett. The 16 growers in WSAG farm a total 64,000 hectares, about a quarter of the area under cultivation in Walgett Shire. In the year 2000 they have about 40 per cent (16,000 hectares) of the 40,000 hectares under chickpeas, an indication of the group's commitment to sustainable, long-term rotations.
Mr Rummery says while WSAG did much in its early years to show the district what can be achieved with modern technology, non-member farmers have been quick to follow. "The simple proof of that is the volume of grain being grown in Walgett Shire.
"We haven't got our rotations bulletproof yet, but we have made the pulse system much more reliable. Chickpea was always seen as a riskier crop than wheat but that's changing too.
"Drive around Walgett today and you won't see a crook paddock of wheat, although there are a few of chickpea, largely due to seed problems hanging over from last year." The combination of marketing cooperative, sustainable farming group and cutting-edge adoption of conservation farming technology has caught the interest of growers in other parts of the northern grains region.
After a visit to Walgett with Queensland's Conservation Farmers, 'Golden Grower' Jason Rae remarked that, while WSAG growers may have looked north for technology in the past, they were now at the forefront, with the Queenslanders perhaps a shade behind.
Mr Rummery recently returned from a Rotary study tour of the United States with the thought that the conservation farming he saw in the world's agricultural giant was also a bit behind Walgett and Australia generally for that matter.
"I would rather be working here than in the safer farming areas, which are more predictable and less challenging," he says.
"This year, for instance, we have 25,000 agres (10,000 hectares) set aside for sorghum, driven by rotations. Even though sorghum is relatively soft on gross margins, and prices are not so good, we look at it from the cash-flow point of view as well as rotations.
"All the costs of the mainstream winter crop are behind us when it's time to plant sorghum, and sorghum delivers pretty quick cash. The strength of the sorghum price has become a pretty good indicator of what our members are willing to do with nitrogen for the next winter crop."