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Storage forms key part of drought plan for NSW growers at Collie

Collie, New South Wales, grower Andrew Freeth has set up an on-farm grain storage complex so he can keep grain for stockfeed or sell it when prices are high.
Photo: Nicole Baxter

Using new and upgraded on-farm storage can be key part of drought management strategy.

The past three dry years have forced a shift in focus for the Freeth family. Keeping their breeding stock fed has become paramount - and it is a task made easier by recent on-farm storage investments.

Andrew Freeth farms with his parents David and Sue and brother Marc on 5500 hectares at Collie, west of Gilgandra, New South Wales.

They typically crop wheat, chickpeas, barley and canola and run a self-replacing Merino ewe flock and some cattle.

Storing grain provides a 'drought hedge', allowing grain to be sold into a drought-driven domestic market or fed to their own livestock.

Andrew has a background in grain marketing and price risk management and uses various tools, including futures and options in offshore and domestic markets, to manage risk.

"A marketing plan underpins our decision-making to store grain," he says.

"This allows us to merchandise grain throughout the year, creating value for the business while managing risk.

"Storing grain also gives us confidence to maintain our ewe flock and turn off prime lambs in the current challenging seasonal conditions."

Completed in 2017 over two stages, six 285-tonne cone-bottom silos were built to provide gas-tight storage that meets Australian standard AS2628.

Older silos have also been retrofitted with aeration, and a controller is used to ensure grain is maintained 'in condition'.

Although little grain has been produced since the work was finished, the silos have proved useful, acting as a "drought buffer" for livestock, Andrew says.

We aim to look out a minimum of 90 days for our livestock feed needs but, in reality, we consider decisions to store grain over a longer time frame of 12 to 24 months. - NSW grower Andrew Freeth

"It means we've been able to store our own grain and purchase grain in when required," he says.

"Because half of our business is livestock, we store more grain than most.

"We aim to look out a minimum of 90 days for our livestock feed needs but, in reality, we consider decisions to store grain over a longer time frame of 12 to 24 months."

Drought preparedness

Being prepared for drought is something the whole family believes in.

"Dad has always had a philosophy of storing fodder to prepare for drought. We carry grain when possible and feasible. We have also used hay and silage in sheds and pits," Andrew says.

"Last year we were feeding out chopped sorghum silage that we had put down in pits in the mid-1990s, plus oats buried in pits from the past decade.

"However, this drought has gone beyond what we could reasonably prepare for. So, we have also been buying in grain, pellets and hay to keep our sheep operation going."

Like many areas in northern NSW and southern Queensland, Collie is experiencing a record dry spell that began three years ago.

Once the rain returns, starting rotations will need to be cereal heavy to restore ground cover, a problem echoed around the district.

"The moment we get a westerly wind, a southerly wind, an easterly wind, the house gets full of dust. It is as bad as I have ever seen it," Andrew says.

"In these circumstances, what we would normally be able to do is breaking down because there are no crops. The normal practices are not working as they should."

NOTE: GRDC has a range of drought-related resources online, including its Farm Business Management online hub.

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