Wheat driving Queensland's fortunes

QCL documents the highs and lows of Queensland cropping

Cropping
The front page story of Queensland Country Life's Grains Outlook supplement in 2013 featured farm manager Peter Schmidt, Glendaloch, Canaga, discussing how frost had impacted his wheat crop.

The front page story of Queensland Country Life's Grains Outlook supplement in 2013 featured farm manager Peter Schmidt, Glendaloch, Canaga, discussing how frost had impacted his wheat crop.

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Queensland Country Life looks back on 85 years of reporting on the cropping industry.

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In its first edition on July 25, 1935, Queensland Country Life was branded with the task of being the official organ of the United Graziers' Association of Queensland, Brisbane Wool Selling Brokers' Association and Brisbane Fat Stock and Produce Brokers' Association.

For this reason, the first mention of some of the state's cropping commodities like maize and sorghum was not to do with planting, harvest or prices, but rather how those commodities were being used in stock rations.

The first mention of wheat in QCL was in the August 1, 1935 edition where three articles appeared on page 11.

It would seem Queensland's farming forefathers in 1935 were just as susceptible to the vagaries of weather as the farmers of 2020.

"While the normal sowing season in the main wheat growing area on the Darling Downs, is May to July, this year the autumn was so dry that the farmers left the preparing of the land till rain fell," the article states.

"The falls at the end of June and early in July were the first suitable for sowing, and this, in the main, has since been carried out."

The article goes on to say "As a general rule, the June sown crops on the Downs are the best" while "May is the sowing season in the Maranoa".

About 280,000 acres of wheat was sown in Queensland, while the second article discussed the season in NSW, where an estimated 4,000,000 acres was to be placed under wheat for the 1935-36 season.

The January 12, 1939 edition reported on the formation of the Maranoa Grain Growers' Association; a few months later QCL reported on the formation of the Queensland Grain Growers' Association in the March 30 edition.

"The first step in state-wide organisation of wheat growers was finalised last Thursday when a decision was reached by representatives of numerous districts of the Darling Downs to form a Queensland Grain Growers' Association," the article states.

It is expected that 36,000,000 bushels of Australian wheat will be sent to Britain. - QCL, September 14, 1939

By the August 24, 1939 edition, QCL was reporting on the Council of Agriculture's annual conference where a belief in organised marketing was reaffirmed. The council stated the stabilisation of the Australian wheat industry was "most desirable".

Later that same year, an article appeared on the front page of the September 14 edition with the headline, "Wheat taken over by government".

And so the Australian Wheat Board was "set up to control receiving, storing and marketing of wheat for local requirements and for export".

"It is expected that 36,000,000 bushels of Australian wheat will be sent to Britain, which will also take a substantial part of the next harvest. Growers may receive 3/5 a bushel," the article states.

In the same edition it was reported, "Prices increased suddenly on Monday by 6d to 3/6 a bushel, and have been maintained at this level during the week".

For much of its first decade of publication, QCL readers were in drought.

In January 25, 1945, Darling Downs farmers stated "although larger areas were sown in December than in the past, weather conditions caused most of it to fail".

"This crop has proved more attractive, on account of the price and yield, than wheat, which is one of the reasons for the wheat areas being limited in Queensland. It is probable now, however, that more wheat will be put in to make up for the grain sorghum failures."

By 1952, all mainland states of Australia had bulk handling systems in place, saving the industry time and money.

In the early 1970s, the nation's first commercial chickpea crop was grown at Goondiwindi. From its humble beginnings, chickpeas have gone on to rival wheat over the past five years for the title of top cereal grain by gross value of production.

Another change for growers was the adoption of the metric system, with the grains industry converting in 1974.

Over the following decades, advancements in seed varieties also increased the profitability of cropping for farmers, with new varieties better able to withstand drought and disease.

In 1986, the federal government conducted a Royal Commission into Grain Storage, Handling and Transport and as 1989 rolled around, the domestic wheat market was deregulated.

As a result, AWB was able to be privatised and as the only exporter of Australian wheat, WB Limited had a formal obligation to maximise returns for growers.

The 1990s brought about a significant shift in cropping practices as no-till farming practices and precision agriculture technology caught on. At the end of the decade, the RTK AutoSteer system was released, further reducing compaction and soil disturbance.

In Queensland Country Life's September 19, 2013 edition Adam Kingston, Sylvia Downs, Roma, hailed Spitfire wheat as a 'miracle crop'.

In Queensland Country Life's September 19, 2013 edition Adam Kingston, Sylvia Downs, Roma, hailed Spitfire wheat as a 'miracle crop'.

By March 29, 2007, QCL was reporting on the "fresh interest in GPS".

"The bumper season on the Central Highlands has prompted renewed interest in precision farming equipment among the district's broadacre operators."

But it wasn't all smooth sailing for farmers. In 2005, AWB's involvement in the United Nations oil-for-food scandal made headlines internationally and brought about the demise of the single desk.

The scandal rocked the industry and in March 2006, ABB Grain, CBH and GrainCorp formed the consortium Wheat Australia to facilitate exports to Iraq.

By November 2006, QCL was reporting on the countdown to the Cole Inquiry, commissioned by Attorney-General Philip Ruddock a year prior.

In 2008, the single desk was disbanded and a decade on from the event in the June 28, 2018 edition QCL reported "the act to deregulate was passed relatively quickly and came into effect as of July 1, 2008."

But it wasn't all negative news in the 2000s and an article appeared in the January 3, 2008 edition with the headline "Qld gears up to handle bumper summer crop".

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