Barley outstrips wheat at Corrigin

Jo FulwoodCountryman

Father and son farming team Murray and Peter Leach say barley is the key to profitability on their Corrigin property.

After being completely wiped out by frost in their first year of farming in Corrigin, the Leaches increased barley plantings and haven't looked back.

Relocating from Tambellup to Corrigin in 2005, Murray is now president of the Corrigin Farm Improvement Group and says many growers in the area have increased the size of their barley crops to combat frost.

"Our best rotation is barley for three years followed by one year of canola," he said.

"With prices where they are at the moment, it's far more profitable than wheat."

Murray and Peter farm in partnership with their wives, Marie and Megan.

In the seven years the Leaches have been in the Corrigin district, they have experienced only two years with average or above average rainfall throughout the growing season.

"It's been a long time between drinks," Murray said. "I've got the stats going back 100 years, and really, it's only been since 2000 that this area has become so unpredictable."

Peter, who studied at Narrogin Agricultural College, said the pair had worked hard to learn about the different farming techniques that suited the area.

"It's different from Tambellup in every way," he said. "We don't get the soft finishes and while in a good year it's definitely more profitable, in an average or below average year it certainly isn't.

"We've had to learn very quickly what doesn't suit the area, such as late sowing and low inputs.

"We found that out the hard way. Just because it doesn't rain doesn't mean you don't feed the crops.

"Even in 2010 with the drought, the paddocks that I didn't put any nitrogen on at all were absolutely terrible, and the ones I put a bit on, they were far better than the paddocks that I didn't. It's a balancing act. We don't throw everything at the crop at seeding time, we play the season but it still gets the same amount throughout the year.

"I've only ever cut back (on nitrogen) once and that was 2010."

Murray and Peter farm just over 3300 hectares, with 900ha sown to barley, including Vlamingh, Hindmarsh and Scope.

They also have 600ha of wheat, 600ha of canola and 160ha of lupins, combined with their 1800 ewes and 2000 lambs. They have 300ha in chemical fallow.

"The first thing I did when we moved was join the farm improvement group and other groups around the area and watched what other people were having success with," Murray said. "The second thing we did was buy 2cm GPS units for the machinery. We now seed each year in the same furrow, so we can germinate crops on just 2 or 3mm of rain."

In 2011, the Leaches achieved a four tonnes per hectare average across their property.

"Barley is our most profitable crop by miles, it always has been," Murray said.

"When we first came here everyone told us to grow wheat but it was getting frosted and just wasn't getting the yield.

"If we can get two tonnes of wheat, then we can get three tonnes of barley."

Despite the challenges they have faced since their move from the Great Southern, both men remain optimistic about the future.

"We like it otherwise we wouldn't be doing it," Murray said. "I think eventually the ducks have got to line up.

"Last year proved to me that we can do it and that we are good at what we do.

"You've either got to go for it, or get out. You can't sit there wondering."

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