Falling Forward Through Droughts with Walgett Farmer Angus Remond
Angus Remond, a farmer in Northern NSW talks about his experiences farming during the past 2 years of drought at Walgett and the turnaround they have witnessed this season. Angus is a 3rd generation farmer and has been back on his farm “Morendah” which is 90klms North-West of Walgett managing 5,400 Hectares of wheat, barley and chickpea cropping since graduating from Marcus Oldham college at the end of 2015.
Farming at Walgett
We are located 90km north west of Walgett on a predominantly dryland cropping property that produces wheat, barley and chickpeas. Our system over the last 40 odd years has been based around a long fallow system where we are cropping a given paddock once every 2 years. During this time, we have been consistently getting some form of crop at least every second year. In the past decade that has stretched out to more than 3 years between crops on average, with only 3 crops being grown between 2011 and 2020 which includes this year.
The drought period we experienced from the end of 2016 to the start of 2020, as for many other eastern state farmers, has been by far the worst in living memory. We were very fortunate to be financially secure through this drought after a bumper season in 2016 allowed us to pay down most of our farm debt. However, it was emotionally taxing to be sitting on the sidelines for consecutive years as we had done through the 2013 to 2015 drought.
It could be very degenerating for your headspace to get caught up in what was going on around yourself in terms of degradation of your property and your livelihood. With bare and barren paddocks being very susceptible to wind, dust storms were an all too normal part of life over the last couple of years. When the topsoil from your paddocks is invading your home on a regular basis, the harsh fact of drought can be an emotional tax that is almost impossible to escape.
A ‘Falling Forward’ Focus During Droughts
In the last drought I have found that a ‘falling forward’ focus has been crucial to staying in a good mindset and planning your next step. Rather than focusing on the devastation around us or what we have been through, it was good to get on with what capital improvements we could make to the property in the quiet production times. Throughout 2017 and 2018 we installed a piped stock and domestic water system as well as undertaking significant repairs to the property road network. This sort of work can be somewhat limited when there is no income coming in, but you do what you can and make arrangements for your ‘next steps’ beyond that. Our ‘next step’ was to seek out alternative employment off farm. I had set a deadline of April 2020 as the crucial date for pulling up on any work we were doing on the farm and shutting the property down until there was significant rain. Fortunately, there were heavy rains throughout February and March which got things back on track and set us up for the good season we are experiencing now.
Along with ‘falling forward’, the family has been a major source of detachment from the drought. My partner, Lydia, moved from Dubbo out to Walgett at the start of 2019, taking a job teaching with the Distance Education Centre (school of the air) in town. Having Lyd with me on the farm has been a great distraction away from farming and has helped to give me a mental break to focus on developing a better relationship with my partner. Having the support and feedback of Lyd throughout the whole process of drought has been indispensable to our decision making as a team and has made it so much easier to fall forward in the right direction.
In August this year, Lyd and I welcomed our first child, Harry, into the world. Parenting has been a huge shock to the system for both of us but has been a great experience that compares to nothing else. With the great season we have been having, it has become quite an act to balance farming and family time with our son. Lyd and I are looking forward to some family time after we get through the imminent harvest.
Solid Yields and Sound Decisions
With some solid Wheat, Barley and chickpea yields staring at us from the paddock, we have been heavily reliant on the team at Market Check to help direct our marketing strategy this year, which is even more important when it has been a long time between drinks. The MC team has been great in relieving the stress of marketing and giving us confidence going into harvest. This has allowed us to focus on the job of getting the crop off in an efficient and timely manner, knowing that the financial performance of our business is on good foundations if we can get the produce out of the paddock.
The sound marketing of our grain helps to enhance our financial performance, which in turn will allow us to protect our business in future droughts. If we can maintain a good financial position by maintaining a stringent investment policy, we will have the flexibility to make decisions that help protect our farm from drought. By no means will we be exempt from drought, but if we are in a sound financial position I feel we will have more flexibility in our decision making so that financial pressures, such as too higher levels of debt, are not forcing us to make decisions that compromise the long term health of our soil subjecting us to greater risk. By doing this I feel we can maintain a better lifestyle and protect our land assets for the future generations to be involved in by continued management and improvement of the landscape we work in.
Angus Remond, first published by Market Check in the Australian Grain Review in November 2020
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We know Nov was wet, but always good to look in a historical context. Data going back to the yr 1900 & some parts of the East Coast cropping belt saw their highest rainfall on record. Among all the negatives, its at least providing some moisture going into 2022 #oatt #harvest21 pic.twitter.com/QwYNUy2FRE