The mercury is touching 40°C once again as I write this. Thankfully, the air conditioning is keeping things somewhat comfortable.
My name is Brian Sunderland, I’m 23 and I hail from Gorey in north Co Wexford.
I arrived in Australia last April after previously working on a dairy farm in Canterbury, New Zealand.
I’m currently working in Western Australia, where we have just finished up harvest for the 2018/2019 season. The farm I work on is a large cropping and sheep farm, based just outside the town of Narembeen, owned by brothers Joe and Brendan Hickey.
Rainfall for this area is also quite low with only 300ml falling in an average year
The farm extends to well over 12,100ha (30,000ac), along with over 5,000 Merino breeding ewes.
The cropping areas cover some 7,000ha, with wheat being the main crop along with barley and some oats for feeding.
Soil types vary from light sandy country to heavy red clay ground.
Yields are low compared with back home in Ireland, with wheat averaging 2.7t/ha and barley usually around the 3t/ha mark.
Inputs and land costs are lower, however, with land averaging $400/ac, a big difference to €10,000/ac at home.
Rainfall for this area is also quite low with only 300ml falling in an average year, usually in big thunderstorms.
Seeding takes place from mid April with harvest commencing from November onwards. Min-till is practised here using 60ft strip till “bars” in order to prevent soil erosion. Compound fertiliser and liquid nitrogen are also applied at the time of sowing.
Big power is required to pull these machines and the farm runs both a 9400 and a 9520R articulated John Deere. Two John Deere combines are also run on the farm, with 35ft and 40ft headers.
The Hickeys have their own trucks for hauling grain, fertiliser, lime, wool and sheep.
We have been busy in January, cleaning and storing away the harvest equipment. Combines, tractors, chaser bins and trucks have all been blown down and washed.
Fencing is also a regular job, with thousands of kilometres of fencing requiring maintenance. Over 1,000t of lime has also been spread with more arriving in the next week.
Next year’s seed grain has been cleaned and treated, ready for seeding in a few weeks’ time.
Contractors were called out to the farm to clean out a water dam that had become silted up over time. Dams, dug in strategic areas of paddocks to catch rain, are the main source of drinking water for stock in this area due to limited piped supply and varying ground water supplies.
Rams have been put out with the sheep mobs and will remain with the ewes for around four weeks until the mobs return to the main yards for shearing in mid-February.
Merino wool is a valuable commodity, with fleeces fetching around $20/kg, a far cry from current wool prices at home. Shearing is carried out by contractors, some of whom shear over 600,000 ewes in a few months.
One mob of ewes has also been artifically inseminated and will lamb down first. These ewes were drafted from the main flock based on wool quality and overall conformation. Future rams are bred from these.
Weather is probably the biggest challenge farmers face here. Rainfall can be the make or break for a crop depending when it falls.
Farmer Writes: making the most of the good conditions as calving starts