Peter grows a variety of grain crops for Kialla including spelt, hard and soft wheat, and oats in a very barren part of NSW, south of Broken Hill. The reason that crops are able to be grown on land that borders desert is due to a once-a-decade seasonal phenomenon.
Very heavy summer rainfall in Southern Queensland or North Western NSW brings large amounts of water down the Darling River system. This water will flow all the way through the Murray-Darling into the sea at South Australia, filling huge seasonal lakes along the way.
This series of lakes, dotted along the Darling and generally known as the Menindee Lakes, may hold that rain water for several years. As they evaporate and shrink a little each year, farmers take advantage of the moist soil along the edges to grow crops.
Before this became an occasional place to farm grains the area was primarily used to graze sheep, which are able to survive on sparse vegetation, and the seasonal grasses along the edges of the drying lakes. In the 1980s a local fellow hit upon the idea to use the lake edges for cropping.
Around that time Peter moved up from the Eyre Peninsula where his family had been sheep farming. His kids live in Mildura where they go to school and often travel up to visit their father on his remote station. It’s remarkable to think that it’s only about 100kms from this dry desert landscape to one of the major fruit growing regions of Australia.
Utilising his farming aptitude Peter is able to plan his crops and get great yields without having to do too much soil preparation. He needs to call upon all his skills to remain viable because it could well be ten years before he gets another chance.
It’s easy to grow organically in this region because the flooding provides nutrients to the soil while simultaneously choking out the weeds. No need for herbicides or even the inter-row cultivation farmers in more fertile regions need to employ to combat the weeds that compete with crops.
Depending on the size of the lake, and whether there is more than one good wet season further up river, farmers may have a few years of cropping before the lakes dry out completely. Then there is nothing to be done but await the next big rainfall up north.