When it comes to putting this season into perspective, Riverina grower Roy Hamilton has 128 years of rainfall records to show that, for his family’s property, this year is one of the driest since 1890.
The Australian government’s Grains Research and Development Corporation explains that research is important in fighting climate change – something that Hamilton is well aware of too.
The grain and fat lamb producer from Rand in southern New South Wales said 2018 was the third driest year on record on his property, behind 1982 and 2002, with just 110mm of growing rain received this season against a long-term average of 290mm.
The Hamilton family has owned Bogandillan Pastoral Company, a 4400-hectare mixed farming operation for more than 90 years and was one of the early adopters of minimum tillage, direct drill and controlled traffic farming.
Hamilton said these practices, along with a growing understanding of how to store soil moisture, control weeds effectively and manage nutrition, have meant even in really dry times there was still crop planted that would reach harvest.
“In the past, a season like this would have meant bare paddocks, but major improvements in how we do things on-farm, driven by quality research, have meant we can now plant on just 10mm of rainfall and still get crop establishment with limited moisture and take it through with some harvest potential,” he said.
“The key difference between then and now is our understanding of how to store moisture. Twenty years ago, we would never have had a boom spray in the same paddock as a harvester, but now it’s standard practice, because we know early weed control preserves soil moisture for the next crop.
“So essentially, research has changed the way we farm and improved critical elements like our water use efficiency and made it possible to get a crop planted and through to harvest in some of the toughest years we’ve had,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton, who is also a Grains Research and Development Corporation northern region panel member, credits the organisation with continuing to help growers build their knowledge and understanding of strategies to cope with drier years.
“Our records show the past two decades have been significantly more variable in terms of annual rainfall than the century before.”
The corporation needs to keep pushing into new frontiers and playing a vital part in developing on-farm management tactics that help us deal with seasonal challenge, he said.
“As a grower I feel the evidence is there to show our climate is becoming increasingly volatile and extreme, so we need all the tools we can get in terms of research and development to manage this and stay in the farming game,” said Hamilton.
The corporation’s chairman John Woods said often yields in a good year are talked about, but arguably it is more important to have a small crop in a tough season.
“We need to continue this work to mitigate climate effects and raise productivity in marginal years, as these years often coincide with very rewarding prices,” said Woods.