Access to water essential for Backs farming operation

Joe and Heather Back established last season cotton crop solely of bore water due the the drought,

Cotton
Joe and Heather Back, Beverley, Ranges Bridge, are preparing to plant 630 hectares of cotton once the season opens. Picture: Helen Walker

Joe and Heather Back, Beverley, Ranges Bridge, are preparing to plant 630 hectares of cotton once the season opens. Picture: Helen Walker

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Cotton grower Joe Back took a gamble and planted 230ha based on their available bore water supply to cover the crop at Beverley, near Ranges Ridge.

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In a normal cotton growing season Joe Back, Beverley, Ranges Bridge, would plant 530 hectares of irrigation cotton.

However, the last season proved to be far from normal for most growers, and Mr Back was not alone in reducing his planting area.

Mr Back, who farms in partnership with his wife Heather, and parents Wesley and Cheryll, took a gamble and planted 230ha based on their available bore water supply to cover the crop.

Mr Back said he normally budgets six megalitres per hectare, but only had 4ML available to him from his bore allocation.

As well as a bore allocation for irrigation purposes, the family also harvests overland flow and has a flood harvest licence from the Condamine River.

However, the latter two were not an option last year due to the prolonged dry weather and lack of flow in the Condamine River.

"This was the first crop we have ever established solely of bore water," Mr Back said.

"We pre-irrigated about one third of the crop at planting in October and 'watered up' the remaining two thirds of the crop in November.

"We then stretched the next in-crop water out until the first week in January.

"In a normal year that watering would have occurred in December."

Mr Back said they were basically nursing the crop through until the February rain arrived.

Last year's cotton crop. Picture supplied.

Last year's cotton crop. Picture supplied.

"That rain was very well timed and the fruit set on the cotton and it went from there to maturity," he said

He said that apart from the worry about the of lack of rain, it was a good growing season in terms of lack of insect pressure and extreme heat like previous years .

Once picked, the Bollgard 746 variety returned 12.4 bales/hectare, which they sold upwards of $550/bale to Queensland Cotton.

"This growing season we have plans to plant 630ha of cotton if the seasons permit," Mr Back said.

"We will look to cut back if the weather signals against us."

Mr Back said while they like to employ locals, they also employed about four backpackers due to their reliability.

Late summer sorghum planted

After the February rain, Joe Back planted 200 hectares of late sorghum. This crop returned 3.2 tonne/ha and was sold upwards of $300/tonne.

"This crop is destined for the international market," he said.

Mr Back said they don't normally plant a winter crop and usually leave their land to fallow in the winter months.

"However, this year we took the opportunity and planted 200ha of chickpeas," he said.

"Our summer rotation between each cotton crop is either sorghum or mung beans."

Overall, the Backs farm 2062ha of which 1200ha is irrigated, and the balance dry land farming.

Mr Back said by using some of the February rain event water to finish last season's cotton crop, they started this coming growing season with about 75 per cent capacity in their dams.

Mr Back said he had experienced both the biggest flood in 2011, followed by the biggest drought on the western Darling Downs since Federation.

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