THERE’S rarely been a better time to be a farmer in Central Queensland (CQ).
The region has just wrapped up a spectacular winter cropping season that has seen record-breaking yields and returns, particularly from chickpeas, and reports of some farmers making more from this year’s crop than what their farms are worth.
That’s not only good news for the region’s producers who can pay down debt, invest in plant upgrades and even have a long-overdue holiday, but the flow-on effects will be a big boost to local businesses and breathe new life into regional towns.
Importantly, it has given a much-needed boost to morale and lifted spirits throughout the community.
Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries technical officer, Maurie Conway, said CQ had “hit the trifecta this year with big yields, big areas of crop and big prices”.
“It started off not so good because we had a dry February/March/April and it was looking drastic. Some people started to plant chickpeas because they could deep plant it, and that was good. But May/June/July were extraordinarily wet and really good for us,” he said.
“Because it was so wet, even the late planted chickpeas yielded extraordinarily well.”
Mr Conway said in the last couple of years the chickpea plant in CQ had been around 50,000ha and 80,000ha, but this year he estimated 120,000ha of chickpeas went in.
Many growers averaged 1.5 to 2.0 tonnes/hectare across their whole farms with the best farms as good as 2.5t/ha to 3.0t/ha and the best paddocks 3.5t/ha to 4.5t/ha.
But the crop wasn’t a certainty until it was harvested and safely in the bin.
“I think we dodged a bullet in the sense that there was Ascochyta blight, Botrytis grey mould and Phytophthora about. For us, Ascochyta is the scary one. There was some Ascochyta at Capella, Gindie and Theodore,” Mr Conway said.
“If there’d been one major rainfall event we could have had a disaster, but we got away with it.”
Mr Conway estimated the bountiful season would inject at least $200 million into the CQ economy.
“That is an extraordinary amount in one year. It will affect machinery sales, people will be looking for new silos, new sheds, improvements around the farms. I think it will also make a difference in the towns with new kitchens, new paint jobs. It has been a real injection into the spirit of the communities,” he said.
Emerald cotton, grain and beef cattle farmer, Nigel Burnett, said it had been a fantastic year for dryland and irrigated cropping in CQ.
“Chickpeas have been a real success story in that you don’t usually get three things to line up: great growing season, high prices and good harvest conditions. People were able to get it off and get paid for it quickly,” he said.
“On our own farm across our chickpea country we yielded 2.8 tonnes/hectare. Other farms around the region have had yields of up to 3.0t/ha. It is a fantastic year.
“We had a really good run with harvest. Some people had issues with mould in chickpeas and a reduction in price, and logistical issues around harvest, but overall most people will be happy with the outcome.”
Valuer with Taylor Byrne at Emerald, Pat Lyons, said it had been the best winter cropping season he’d seen in the 25 years he had been in the district.
“It will be a good shot in the arm for growers because conditions haven’t been easy for farming in this part of the world for a number of years. It is a good opportunity for them to consolidate after those difficult years,” he said.
Mr Lyons said while there had been an uplift in land values in the area over the past 12 months, it was too early to attribute that to the outcome of this year’s crops.
Cropping land in Central Queensland has been ranging in value from $1700 to $2500/hectare.
“In the past 12 months, the market for farming country has been a little stronger, but there haven’t been a lot of transactions. I think the conditions are right for that to happen now. We will see an increased level of interest, and an increased level of interest generally results in an increase in value,” Mr Lyons said.