COTTON GROWTH RIPENS WITH A NEW ERA
Youth and enthusiasm coupled with wisdom and experience proves the perfect formula for progressive Forbes producers, David, Will and Henry Nash.
Farming may be renowned for its solitary nature, but for the Nash family, it can be hard to get a word in edgewise, such is their passion and enthusiasm. “We could talk to each other all day, often in the paddocks we’ve got the phone on conference call so we can banter away,” admits 24-year-old Henry, who farms in the Forbes and Young regions with father David and 26-year-old brother Will. And their record is impressive. “It was harvest 2016 and big rain was coming. We sat on our headers for 40 hours straight trying to get everything off and Will and I were on the phone talking absolute rubbish for eight hours straight. It did the trick though, we got all but the last 20 hectares off before the skies opened,” Henry laughs. With their comradery obvious, the Nash family also enjoys a reputation as one of the region’s most progressive. While David has traditionally run a mixed operation, including cereal cropping, hay production and sheep trading, the boys’ permanent return home – Henry in 2016 and Will in 2018 - instigated a shift for the business. This season they grew their first irrigated cotton crop, taking advantage of opportunities in the Forbes region’s burgeoning cotton industry. “We did the figures and the profit margins were very attractive. Over recent years the region has proved its success growing cotton – new varieties specific to our shorter season and access to water make it a viable option,” Will says. A nearby leasing option piqued the boys interest, and after thorough research the family took on a 1,450ha lease over ‘Back Geeron’, supplied by the Jemalong Irrigation Scheme, and negotiated carry over water from the 2016/17 season. But, there was one slight hitch.
“Neither of us had any idea about cotton,” Henry laughs. “To the point, we actually hadn’t even stepped foot on a cotton property in our life!” With David a long-term client of Delta Ag, the boys turned to the company’s local cotton guru, Brett Cumberland. “Brett has been imperative to our operation, we had absolutely zero experience to draw on, and growing irrigated cotton is so different to growing a dryland crop,” Henry says. “Brett understood that we weren’t seasoned cotton growers, and every step of the way he took the time to explain processes and their importance – he made sure we were never standing there like numbnuts!” With the carry over water, the boys budgeted on potentially using 11Ml per hectare, allowing them 75ha of crop. “Water is so precious, so when we took on the block we wanted to ensure we got the most out of it,” Will explained. “One of the challenges of leasing a block is the limitations around investment in water efficiency infrastructure, and unfortunately our block has older style syphons that require more labour hours – but we do the best with what we have.” A hot summer and no effective in-crop rain offered no favours, and while they fully expected hard work, the boys admit they found the season relentless. “Let’s just say there were no pub nights!” Will jokes. “We really didn’t have a break all summer, it was hard going without any in-crop rain, but Brett was a saviour. Thankfully there were no nasty agronomic surprises – Brett was always in front of the eight ball – we never had any late sprays or irrigations - if we had ordered water for a Friday but needed it Wednesday we’d get on the phone and make it happen. Jemalong Irrigation have been great to work with which has contributed to the crops success.” The boys did, however, learn the hard way the importance of a good set of gloves in 40 degree heat.
“And we can add spraying channels to our skillset now – who knew irrigation channels could grow so many weeds!” Henry laughs. Their most pleasant of surprises, however, has been the success of crop itself. “We still have a few weeks before it comes off, so it will be interesting to see the results, but it has certainly done better than we ever expected, which is really exciting. “After a disappointing 2018 winter season, it’s been the highlight we needed.” The Nash’s now lease 1,457ha and own 1,295ha around Forbes, and with the boys home, their aim is to increase their hectares to 4,000, and develop their own cotton operation. David began his farming career managing a dairy farm at Camden, before managing property around Young. Together with his parents and in-laws, he was able to purchase his first 607ha, “Cooyong” Crowther, between Cowra and Young in 1989. Through leasing and purchasing, David grew their operation to eventually include “Windemere”, “Niaga” and “Back Geeron”. He is thrilled that the boys decided to return home – their future on the farm was certainly not a given. Will completed a degree in mining engineering, and seemed content working in the field in the Northern Territory, and Henry dabbled in landscape gardening whilst completing a business degree. And while David says he put no pressure on the boys to return, he did, however, make the conscious decision to expand operations and prepare, just in case. Leasing has allowed the family to grow its business and increase cropping area without the equity required to purchase land. “We also capitalised on machinery so we could take on extra acres and increase efficiencies of scale,” Will explains. “For people needing a leg up buying, or for young people, leasing is a great option if they want to get a start in modern day broadacre agriculture or irrigation.” For Will and Henry, 2018 proved a steep learning curve. “Across all three properties, which are each half an hour apart, 50mm fell between January and September, with our biggest fall at “Windemere” just 7mm,” Henry concedes. “We did plant wheat, chickpeas and barley, but really only harvested enough for seed, which now in turn dictates our rotation for this winter, which isn’t ideal agronomically – we would have liked more chick peas in our schedule but we just didn’t get the seed.” The daily feeding of sheep and crops in constant limbo took its toll on the boys, but ever the optimists, they believe that the season provided a good learning opportunity. “There were a lot of lessons learnt, we had a mentality of ‘it’ll be right, it’ll rain’, and I think going forward we will definitely be more considerate of our moisture profiles and conditions prior to planting.” “We’ve seen first-hand the benefits of minimum tillage, and how imperative it is to retain soil moisture and health,” Henry explains. “Last season, anything sown into stubble cover from 2017 we were able to harvest, of the seed planted into country with no stubble we literally got nothing. We’re now two years into a full minimum till and inter row cropping program and we feel confident this will help us drought proof for the future.” With their fresh enthusiasm, David is happy to let the boys take over while he takes a step back, avoiding one of succession’s most delicate challenges. “I just think it’s fantastic, every day is fun and the boys bring fantastic strength to the business and really reinvigorate the operation,” David proudly smiles. Their unique characteristics – David with his experience, Will and his eye for detail and analytics together with Henry’s adventurous, ‘gung ho’ spirit – prove complementary, and between the three of them, Will believes, “we’re able to come up with a pretty good plan”.
“We’ve got very different personalities and disagreements allow us to move forward, but we never get angry with each other. We watched dad work hard to retain and grow the enterprise, and we’re pretty proud of him and the opportunity he’s given us to drive the operation and further grow and better it.” “Just don’t tell him that!” Will laughs. Delta Ag has also played a pivotal role in the Nash’s success story, with David a client since its inception. “I’ve been a client of Gerard Hines since 1991, and Delta Ag since its inception, and have full faith in him, it really is a team effort.” Likewise, Will and Henry credit Brett for their smooth transition into cotton, so much so that they are now engaging him in their winter cropping program also. Brett is as equally as thrilled by the relationship. “This is a fantastic example of Delta maintaining a strong family holding through the generations, and it’s a partnership that’s exciting for both our businesses going forward. “It’s always great to work with the keen young farmers, and Will and Henry have done a great job in their first season together. They’re not afraid of hard work and long hours, and their attention to details is spot on – they’ve got a big future in cotton,” Brett believes. And as the saying goes, fortune favours the brave, and the Nash’s first foray into an industry totally foreign to them was bold move, but one that has paid off. “In a bad year, this crop has been our only shining light, so, together with Delta Ag, we’re excited to see what the potential is once the seasons turn,” Henry says.