Uncle Tom's best crops

ASC/Suncorp Dryland Wheat Competition coordinator Tom Dwyer in the crop of Catapult wheat near Lockhart.
ASC/Suncorp Dryland Wheat Competition coordinator Tom Dwyer in the crop of Catapult wheat near Lockhart.

As wheat competition co-ordinator Tom Dwyer makes his way into this season's bumper-sized crops - many of which are yielding in the seven tonnes a hectare range - it has got him thinking back to when the industry has seen comparative performances.

"The real big one was 1966 after the '65 drought," he recalled during the judging of the crop of Catapult wheat entered by Adam Lane, at Lockhart, in the 2020 ASC/Suncorp Dryland Wheat Competition.

"It was a massive year and so was 1974, but after that harvest the industry had quotas imposed which took a bit of the joy out of growing wheat."

He also recalled 1990 as another of the good year.

He was still farming at Forbes then and that year he produced a 3.9t/ha crop.

And of course the soft-finishing season of 2016 was another big year, although a lot of good crops were also lost then due to the extreme wet conditions.

"They had big potential but we got a wet harvest and the wheat was downgraded or the crops lodged so much we couldn't harvest," he said.

"Uncle Tom", as he is affectionately know among wheat growers through his role as coordinator ASC/Suncorp Dryland Wheat Competition and through his contribution to the Western NSW District exhibit during the Sydney Royal Easter Show, said it wasn't the big paddocks or big machinery which has made the biggest impact he has seen on growing wheat.

Duncan Fisher, Suncorp Wagga Wagga agribusiness relationship manager with ASC/Suncorp Dryland Wheat competition judge Paul Parker photographed by Tom Dwyer.

Duncan Fisher, Suncorp Wagga Wagga agribusiness relationship manager with ASC/Suncorp Dryland Wheat competition judge Paul Parker photographed by Tom Dwyer.

Throughout it all, Uncle Tom said the biggest change to the wheat industry had not been the big machines or the bigger paddocks.

"It was the introduction of alternative crops, crop variety rotations and fertiliser and the use of sprays which have made a big difference," he said.

"The machinery is only the secondary part.

"There were a lot more growers on the ground during the seventies with smaller acreages and smaller machinery but with amalgamation the farms have just got bigger."

If there was one practice he felt he missed, and that also had been beneficial in the past, it was the undersowing of the wheat crops with a pasture rotation.

"We used to always sow subclover or lucerne under the third year's wheat crop," he said.

"It was very good for the ground, you could run sheep as an extra income and it did break the disease cycle."

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