ROWENA’S SHINING LIGHT - A bright future in agriculture for Radford family

Article I Lucy Moore Photography I Jessica Schmierer

Farmers and graziers are regarded as some of the greatest optimists and the Radford family of Rowena, NSW, are no exception.

Now in their second year of decent rainfall since the most recent and well-publicised drought period, the Radfords remain acutely aware of how quickly things can change, and are as they say, making hay while the sun shines.

Chris Radford first moved to the Rowena area in 1989 with his wife Vanessa entering the fray in 1995 and they raised three children, immersing themselves in the community, while enduring challenging early years at “Ibon”.

While the heavens have begun to open more regularly of late, Chris says rainfall deficiencies had long been a significant challenge to the industry and finding ways to account for dry spells has been imperative.

“We grew five good crops in a row up to 2012 after which time we grew nothing again until 2016,” he recalls.

“It was a good crop, followed by no crop at all until last year. I’m a big believer in cycles and hopefully we’re in a wet cycle now and we can put a few together to build our reserves up again so we can handle the next dry time.”

Chris says the key is being profitable in good years and employing better farming techniques for weed control and moisture retention, rather than falling into the trap of complacency.

“We invested in weed seeker technology about 13 years ago and it has had massive benefits for our business in our zero till operation,” he says.

The weed seeker uses sensing technology to selectively target weeds and Chris explains that the money this had saved his business was immeasurable.

“In the drier times we’re not wasting chemical spraying the dirt and it’s a very efficient, cost effective way of controlling weeds,” he says.

“It’s used in conjunction with conventional spray rigs when weeds are more prolific and we find it works really well in our program.”

Chris has been aware of the rate at which farming technologies are evolving and credited his agronomy team for keeping him on the front foot.

“There is actually drone technology becoming available with weed mapping capabilities that we believe are compatible with normal spray rigs, meaning rather than updating to a newer model weed seeker we may be able to use our conventional rigs to spot spray in time,” he says.

“So we’re not rushing in - we have a great agronomy team who keep track of the most cost effective options to ensure we’re as efficient as we can be while keeping our fingers on the pulse.

“That goes for Delta too. We have a long and loyal history with Delta and I’m always able to source the newest seed varieties and chemicals when I need it.”

Chris has almost finished planting 2,500ha of barley, with 2,500ha each of wheat and chickpeas to follow.

Chris has measured 362mm of rain in the year to date and has also received beneficial flood water across his country recently from Thalaba creek and associated channels.

“We’re probably a week late with our planting because it’s been too wet to get on, but it’s a good problem to have. Everyone seems to be getting stuck into it in the area and it looks like we’re going to have a good run for the time being.”

The Radfords also aim to run a 2,000 head self-replacing flock of Merino sheep, however numbers are down to about 1,500 ewes joined this year while they rebuild after the drought.

Chris says the sheep were fed on 150ha of oats with about 7,650ha of farmed country inside the total 11,500ha enterprise.

“The sheep work well alongside the farming as a mixed operation and often complement each other here in our business,” he says.