With a 2021-22 winter crop that simply kept giving all season it was with great trepidation when at harvest time growers faced some of the worst storm events that only an LaNina can conjure up
Heavy rain and flooding was a challenge that all growers in southern NSW had to face at critical harvest time for the 2021-22 winter season.
Growers watched as their anticipated bumper harvest was whipped by sleeting rain and in many instances buried with an avalanche of flood waters.
But with the harvest in full swing, some, like the Nixons farming near Corowa NSW, are finding that despite the inevitable damage caused from these weather events, actual yields are proving to be defiant and in most cases above average.
Farming is in the lifeblood of the Nixon family from Oaklands in southern NSW, with agriculture the occupation of choice for generations, ever since the family first arrived here in the 1880’s.
Today, Andrew Nixon, his brother James and their father, Richard, call the 4700ha property, Narrow Plains, home. They’ve been on the home property, about 60km north of Corowa NSW, since the 1970s and they maintain a busy cropping operation comprising wheat, barley, canola, maize and rice.
Harvest is in full swing in Christmas week, and Andrew is in charge of a Case IH 8250 combine, working in 1700ha of barley that is averaging about 7 tonnes/ha, and at this stage the quality of the barley is still expected to go to high priced malt and is more than a tonne better than an average season. The plan is to start on the wheat a few days later, weather permitting, in this very late season.
Harvesting has already finished on 1800ha of canola in late November, producing another above average result of 2.7 tonnes to the hectare, a great outcome considering the record prices at present.
Andrew said the heavy rain and flooding in the region in November had “knocked the quality of the crops around a bit, but wasn’t too bad”, and they certainly counted themselves lucky compared to the flood damage experienced in other regions of NSW.
“We’re a bit worried about the quality of the wheat – some of it’s a little shot and sprung. But we know we have some good and some bad, so it’s just a matter of segregating the two and trying to market them the way they are,” he said.
Central to their operation is the machinery they run at harvest to bring in the crop. In this instance a Case IH Axial-Flow 9250, and 8250 combine harvesters, while the whole operation is backed up with two Quadtrac’s and two Magnum tractors.
And just in case that arsenal needs some back-up, an upcoming addition to the fleet is a new AFS Connect Magnum 380, it’s on its way from their local Case IH dealer O’Connors from their Corowa NSW yard, and a Patriot sprayer to round out the fleet.
Andrew has fond memories of the Case IH 2388s combines they used to operate but appreciates the level of automation and simple usability in the latest models along with their capacity to step up when the going gets tough.
“The level of automation now is where things have really improved – essentially there’s no real adjustments needed outside the cab. All the rotor, cleaning, residue and header front adjustments are on a button – you can just do it all on the fly.
“The Harvest Command system paired with Feedrate Control takes it to the next level – as conditions change, the harvester will adjust itself to suit and operate at the optimum speed,” Andrew said.
“You can shift the sensitivities to optimise what you want to do and optimise the header for the conditions all while monitoring the grain sample and quality. We find it works really well in corn – you pretty much set and forget the automation.”
The Nixons also enjoy the higher power of current generation combines when asked to work in tough conditions, as well as the increased carrying capacity of the grain tank.
“Our current Case IH headers are just a lot more user friendly and can go for longer. When conditions get tough, that’s when these bigger headers really shine,” Andrew concluded.
With many NSW cropping operations scraping through what many industry pundits expected to result in severe crop losses, growers in NSW have dodged the bullet in as much of 95% of growing regions.
This is an almost unexpected outcome as unwanted late rainfall resulted in harvest delays and anticipated quality downgrades as damage to crops became evident.
Ready for harvest crops were flooded in the central west and northern region of NSW and this was expected to result in total crop loss for some growers along river systems and will impact the total tonnage expected.
Prior to these unnecessary rain events, winter crop production in NSW was estimated at 17.8 million tonnes, 72% above the 10-year average and the second highest on record.
As a result of growers such as the Nixon family salvaging the season, the prediction of a 2021-22 winter crop harvest at a record haul of 58.4 million tonnes across the country may very well be maintained.