Bowmans ready for challenging year

Dorothy HendersonCountryman
Natalie and Leon Bowman with their son Ashley and farm dog Tilly.
Camera IconNatalie and Leon Bowman with their son Ashley and farm dog Tilly. Credit: Rosie Henderson

The rain gauge indicates this year’s rainfall is at least 100mm short of what would normally be expected but the outlook on the Bowman family’s Grass Patch farm is far from gloomy.

Reality tinged hopes at Glen Hartley but as the year is discussed at the kitchen table, the dry season has failed to dampen spirits.

Leon and Natalie Bowman operate as Bowman Farming Trust, and are ably assisted by their son Ash, who is on the payroll, two full-time employees and an extra pair of hands at seeding.

The farmers have spent a great deal of time thinking about the long-term future of their 9000ha property, 13km east of Grass Patch and about 79km north-east of Esperance. The area is one of those short of water, with rainwater supplies to households low and dams dry.

Mr Bowman said their cropping regime had changed slightly from the usually 50 per cent wheat, 50 per cent canola, field pea and barley regime, with the amount of canola sown cut back as a result of the low rainfall.

“Up to the end of May we had received 49mm of rain, with major falls of over 10mm on May 15 and June 10,” he said.

Grass Patch farmers Natalie, Leon and Ashley Bowman.
Camera IconGrass Patch farmers Natalie, Leon and Ashley Bowman. Credit: Rosie Henderson

Despite this, the crop is out of the ground. “While we also had a patchy start last year, we had 180mm of rain in February 2018, so there was moisture in the ground,” Mr Bowman said.

“If we break even this year, we will be doing well. But we have come into this year off the back of four or five good years, so we are in a better position than we ever have been to survive it.”

Of the 8000 arable hectares cropped on the property, Benito canola has been sown as a result of its consistent performance, and the fact that seed can be retained.

About 4200ha of Sceptre and Mace wheat varieties have been sown and 400ha of Gunya field peas and 1300ha of Latrobe barley complement the mix, all varieties which have proven their worth.

“The yield average for the wheat is 2.8t/ha, and the varieties we use suit the four different crop rotations we carry out to suit the various soil types on the property,” Mr Bowman said.

While crops dominate on the property, there are 100 head of Dorper cross sheep and 100 Angus cows on hand to supplement the income and provide farm-grown meat for the table.

Mrs Bowman said the farm had benefited from involvement in the Pilot of Drought Reform Measures in WA Building Farm Business program rolled out in 2010.

The Department of Agriculture Farm Business Resilience Program had encouraged the family to focus on management techniques that would stand the land in good stead during years such as 2019.

Practices such as gypsum spreading, stubble retention and the use of new varieties has enabled productivity to be increased.

“Some of the figures that relate the production we are achieving to the rainfall we are getting, even in a dry year, are encouraging,” Mr Bowman said.

The Bowman family has spent a great deal of time thinking about the farm’s future.

“We review our business plans every five years, and have a board that includes outside perspectives that help us review our achievements and set future goals,” Mrs Bowman said.

“We are looking at the farm as a way of providing for us all now and into the future.”

“We want to ensure that we set up our business so that it creates opportunities for all of the members of our family, including our son Murray and his family, who aren’t involved in the farm itself right now.”

The family is driven by an outlook that is forward thinking, but grounded by achievements that can reward, even in a dry year when crop prospects might be grim.

“During the last few months we have cleaned out six dams,” Mr Bowman said.

“And we have taken our time to get the crop in this year, dodging the predicted damaging winds and trying to make sure we sowed when it was about to rain.”

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