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NSW farmers begin their first harvest in four years, headers light up the night sky

By Amelia Bernasconi, Tuesday October 20, 2020 - 07:46 EDT
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Headers have sat idle for years waiting for drought to break, now it's all hands on deck for the 2020 harvest. - ABC

There's a glow atop the paddocks in northern New South Wales, a sight locals and farmers haven't seen since 2016.

It's header drivers working into the night to get the most important crop in years off as quickly as possible.

After the 2016 harvest it was almost as if someone had turned the taps off, for much of the eastern states.

And now, after years of little to no income, NSW growers finally have their chance to climb out from the depths of the crippling drought.

Mungindi farmer Tom Greentree recounted the 'dust balls' and tough times and said when the rain fell earlier this year finally, in good consistent quantities, they were quick to get a winter crop in the ground.

"We couldn't get really closer to any fence lines," Mr Greentree laughed.

"We didn't leave anything out at all, normally in our rotation we'll leave 10 to 15 per cent out for a fallow.

"But no, we'd been waiting for a crop for too long, so everything went in."

The 15,000-hectare property has been run by the Greentree family since the early 1980s and they had never started harvest so early.

"There's a lot of pressure on this crop. We need it really badly," Mr Greentree said.

"So as soon as we could turn the key, it was on — and we'll go pretty hard until it's done, weather permitting."

He said the tables have turned from checking multiple weather forecasts in search of rain, to now asking Mother Nature to hold off and not halt harvest.

"It went from in the drought, checking it every hour of the night and day wanting rain, to then having a bit of a relief in crop, and then now checking it every hour not wanting rain to try and get the crop off," Mr Greentree said.

"Standard pressures you've got to put up with, I suppose."

Financial gain spreads far from the farm gate

Mr Greentree described many of his experiences as 'lucky' this season; he escaped frost damage, mice infestations and labour shortages.

Many of his contractors returned, but on a nearby property former international pilot Andrew King is swapping Boeing 777s for a header to fill a worker gap.

"I'm helping bring the crop home," Mr King said.

Mr King said he found work with a contractor around Mungindi from a Facebook group that connects aviation industry staff with farmers.

He said while it was a learning curve, many skills transferred between jobs.

"For the last 10 years I've been flying the 777 and the 787, which are fairly complicated airplanes," Mr King said.

"It's very similar in the fact that it's transferable skills — pilots are used to, not only working reasonably long hours, but also strange hours of the day and night.

"[We're] reasonably technically proficient, so we pick up stuff quite quickly and we're also good at assessing risk and making sure we do the job right the first time.

"I'm really pleased and proud to be part of such an awesome experience."

And the trickle-down effect from a rush of workers to the Mungindi district is going a long way to support the town's new supermarket, set up by volunteers after last month.

"It was incredible. It took no time, even the night of the fire, for the community to see that spirit — it was just straight away. We had farmers' water trucks, everyone in helping," President of the Mungindi Progress Association, Anna Harrison said.

"This harvest is an absolute blessing this year.

"We have really had three shocking years here and the whole community really relies on the agricultural sector surrounding the town, so the harvest will bring the income in.

"It's a shame those three shops that we lost, they'd waited three long years to get this busy effect of the harvest come into town and unfortunately they're not around to see and reap the rewards of that."


© ABC 2020

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