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Water playground transforms into dry lakebed cropping opportunity

by Neil Lyon, 18 May 2018

OPPORTUNITY has come knocking for southern NSW farming couple, Derek and Skye Lewington, who have taken advantage of the drying of a large, ephemeral lake to add some bonus barley hectares to their winter sowing program.

A long period of dry weather has seen the lake dry down enough to allow the Lewingtons, who farm near Uranquinty, south of Wagga Wagga, to move in and sow an extra 70 hectares of barley this season.

The Lewingtons lease about half the 150ha lake – which is locally known as ‘Roping Pole Swamp’ – and a neighbour owns the other half.

Mr Lewington said this year’s crop wasn’t the first on the lakebed as they had grown a number in the past, with mixed results.

He said the lake usually filled about two years in every 20, but it had filled three times in the last seven years.

The last time it filled was about 18 months ago and this time last year they were water skiing on it.

“Every time we have sown a crop in it lately it has gone under water. And when it doesn’t go under water, it gets frosted because it is the lowest point in the district.

“However, we are trying again this year. You just have to take the opportunity.

“If it goes under water, at least it means the rest of the crops will be good. If it doesn’t rain anymore, we know there is a good supply of subsoil moisture underneath it. If that happens, we might only get a crop off the lakebed and nothing else.”

The unpredictable, periodic nature of the lake filling and drying makes growing crops on it an opportunistic venture that can produce substantial reward, or lead to disappointment.

“When it filled up in 2016 I had a beautiful barley crop that was about to come into head. We had 200 millimetres of rain and it was 2.5 metres deep. The whole barley crop went under water – and we started water skiing on it,” he said.

Mr Lewington runs a four-crop winter program on the farm, growing field peas, canola, wheat and barley.

This season’s planting is nearing completion with the last of the barley going in this week and only a few field peas left to sow.

Soil moisture conditions were marginal at the start, but a couple of moderate falls of rain since have kicked along crop emergence.

“We had 100 millimetres of rain at the end of February. That gave us some good subsoil moisture,” he said.

“We dry sowed some of the canola and have had staggered emergence with it.

“Recently we have had 20mm of rain in two different falls, so just have enough moisture now to get things up.”

 

Photos: Derek Lewington.

 

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