FRANK Deshon said his family’s farming and beef business is now in “unknown territory” with a winter crop looking unlikely for the second year running and their entire 24,300ha operation completely destocked.
The Deshon family usually plant around 8100ha of dryland country to winter cereal crops on their aggregation of properties 20km north of Hebel.
They also have another 1000ha under irrigation, usually for cotton, and operate a 999 SCU feedlot.
But having received just 150mm since July 2012, the Deshon’s are facing the very real prospect of not planning any dryland crops for a second winter running.
“We are very fortunate that 2010, 2011 and 2012 were good years but there is no doubt that we are going into unknown territory now,” Frank Deshon said.
“We have never been in a situation where the entire place has been destocked and we are looking at the prospect of not planting any broadacre crops for the second year in a row.
“We have also decided to use the water we would normally use for the coming cotton season to plant some irrigated barley and wheat so that we can keep the feedlot going so we won’t even have a cotton crop at the end of the year.”
Mr Deshon said the family were looking at ways to reduce costs but are hoping to keep their full-time staff employed right through the drought.
“We have six full-time staff and usually three or four casuals working here,” he said.
“We will obviously have to let the casuals go but hopefully if we can keep the feedlot operating we will have enough to keep the full time staff going.
“It’s definitely time to tighten the belts.”
Rain upstream from the Deshon’s farming operation has given the drought-weary family their first glimpse of green pasture in many months.
Brothers, Frank and Ned Deshon, harvested 2500 megalitres after a recent flow in the Bokhara River and opted to use the water to plant 530ha of irrigated Grout barley and 120ha of irrigated Baxter wheat rather than hold the water over for a summer cotton crop.
Frank Deshon said using the irrigation water to sure up a small winter plant would provide greater security for the family’s 1000 head on-farm feedlot.
“It’s hard to justify carrying that water through to next summer’s cotton crop when we can utilise it better on-farm growing winter cereals like barley and wheat for the feedlot,” he said.
“If we can keep the feedlot operating at capacity it makes a lot more sense business wise for us.”
The Deshon’s planted a trial plot of barley in mid-April to test their planting regime and have since replicated the plant across their rest of the allocated irrigation country.
“Because we were planting into the old cotton country we mulched and root cut it and then disked it all down,” Mr Deshon said.
“Then we Kelly chained it and planted the seed via a spreader. We planted the barley at 65kg/ha and spread urea at 80kg/ha behind that.
“Then we incorporated that with the Kelly chain, pulled the furrows up and watered it in.
“Field one came up well so we just replicated that across the farm.”
Mr Deshon has budgeted using 0.6megatlires of irrigation water per acre for the first watering and expects to use another 0.4mg/acre for two in-crop waters.
“It’s all planted now and we are three quarters of the way through watering it up,” he said.
“It’s come up looking pretty good – it’s nice to have something green to look at for a change.”
The Deshon family operation includes Frank and Ned’s parents, Doug and Sue Deshon, and their respective wives, Megan and Sarah.
Doug’s father, Frank Deshon drew the home property, Euraba, with his business partner, Tom Kennedy in 1933, and added an additional area of Lochiel soon after.
Sadly Frank was killed while fighting in the Second World War but his son, Doug was able to buy out Mr Kennedy and return to Euraba when he married Sue in 1963.
The family expanded again with the purchase of Nee-Nee in 1978 and were, at this time, running a large scale Merino breeding operation.
By the mid-1980s, Frank said it was becoming apparent that a sheep operation wasn’t going to support the entire family.
“My brother, Ned, had indicated that he also wanted to come home so we started doing a bit of broadacre farming,” Mr Deshon said.
“I was fortunate that Rick Hemming sold me some machinery at a very good rate and was kind enough to let me pay it off over a few years.”
The move into broadacre farming allowed the family to continue expanding and in 1989 they purchased Lowlands and in 2006 added Balgi.
They continued developing their farming operation, planting their first crop of irrigated cotton in 1996.
“That was a real learning curve and quite scary for me,” Mr Deshon said.
“I was lucky to have a good mate next door, Ron Nebling, who I leant on very heavily for advice on how to set the gear up. Preparing the tractors and the operations in the field was so foreign to us.
“But eventually we scrambled our way through the watering and we have gradually expanded from there.
“We had only just finished developing the other half of the irrigation when we hit the Millennium drought which lasted up until 2009.
“2004 to 2009 were very tough years out here in the irrigation industry.”
The Deshon family diversified their operation again in 2004 when they established the Euraba Feedlot.
Now accredited for 1000 head, the feedlot utilises grain and hay from the broadacre farming operation as well cottonseed from the irrigation program.
“When we can grow a good wheat crop at Dirranbandi it generally means that most of Australia is growing a good crop and often that culminates in surplus grain,” Mr Deshon said.
“Fright costs are also a killer out here and at that time Graincorp’s grain storage costs were escalating and we thought our grain would be best utilised on-farm.
“We were always having trouble finishing our cattle. We’d just get our numbers up to a strong position and then we would run into a bit of dry time and then we’d be selling into a market that was flooded with out of condition stock.
“We just thought a feedlot would be a better way to value add to our grain.”
Mr Deshon said one of the only bright spot in the family’s cropping program in recent months was their 2013 cotton crop.
The crop yielded 4.3 bales/acre and 90pc was harvested before some rain was received in March.
“We had a full plant last year which was our third in a row and considering the hot, dry year the crop did very well,” Mr Deshon said.