Producers seize day in bluegums demise

Kate PollardCountryman

With thousands of hectares of former forestry plantations coming onto the market, young farmers are viewing it as a great opportunity to make their mark.

Mixed-enterprise farmers Rob and Jennifer Egerton-Warburton are in their second year of leasing a property near Frankland that was planted to bluegums for 12 years.

"If you are a young bloke, I think there is a great opportunity with all this tree country coming back," Rob said.

"You have all the energy in the world to put into it and at the end of the day, all you need is some old machinery, because you don't want to put anything too good over it.

"It's a good way to get started … for not a lot of money."

The couple are leasing Graham and Kaye Swinney's farm near Frankland, on which 550ha of blue gums were ground out.

Fortunately for Graham, his contract required that the land be returned to the condition it was in before the trees, including a fencing allowance and a couple of fertiliser applications.

"I liked the trees and they were a very good income for us, allowing us to travel, but it's nice to see it back in crop," he said.

This year Rob is growing wheat varieties Scout and Mace on the land planted previously to trees and barley and pasture on the rest of the property.

The wheat is following canola, the first crop planted since the bluegums were harvested. Last year the canola yielded about 1.6 tonnes per hectare, compared with about 2t/ha at the home farm.

Farming this type of country has been a learning curve for Rob, a Nuffield scholar.

"In my time farming, I have never ripped up country, so all our gear is designed to be going into soil- direct drilling and this has been worked twice," he said.

"It's been ploughed and ploughed again, so it's all really loose and friable and its been a bit of a learning curve trying to work out how not to drill too deep."

The agronomy has been the same, but Rob said it had required a lot of patience and concentration on establishment, especially in the first year.

A key challenge has been to get the ground level to ensure good depth control at seeding.

Last year, Rob noticed a lot of clay had been brought to the surface where stumps had been ground out, affecting germination, and the ground was variable between the mounds and inter-row.

This year's focus has been to make the ground uniform to allow it to wet up evenly.

"We've had really good establishment this year at seeding," he said.

Rob said surprisingly the air seeder had suffered little damage despite pulling up some pretty big rocks.

"Productivity is probably 15 to 20 per cent less than what we would normally get, but it's because we have to stop," he said.

"The bar rattles a lot so bolts and pipes come loose and we were stopping probably every 15ha and tightening a few things."

Soil tests on the property were also very positive, including phosphate and potassium levels.

"The only thing last year was that we had no nitrogen," Rob said.

"The trees stripped every last bit of nitrogen out of the soil. It was almost zero, so you are starting from a blank canvas.

"We took this on because of the country. We looked at the soils and thought there is huge potential to grow some nice crops."

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