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Sunflowers brighten up the Liverpool Plains countryside after years of drought

Amelia Bernasconi, Saturday April 4, 2020 - 10:41 EDT
ABC image
Sunflowers are brightening up the countryside at a time they're needed most. - ABC

From dry and dusty paddocks an increasingly rare crop is flowering on the New South Wales Liverpool Plains, standing as a symbol of recovery from an intense one-in-100-year drought.

There is a few football fields worth of sunflowers now in bloom at the Pengilley family farm at Blackville, near Tamworth, after a small gamble paid off.

"It's been pretty uncertain to be honest, we put this crop in on a pretty big hunch when we put it in in January," farmer Alec Pengilley said.

"We saw a bit of rain on the radar coming so we thought 'you know what? We'll give it a stab."

The Liverpool Plains was not immune from drought and for more than three years the normally thriving cropping area fell short in its production.

"It's nice to see a change of scenery," Mr Pengilley said.

"Everything here prior, like two months previously, was bone dead. No matter where you looked there wasn't a blade of green grass.

"This area, unlike none other, has been hit with the drought pretty severely. But it's taught us to bunker down and keep doing what we're doing because we all know we do it pretty well."

Sunnies brighten spirits

The sunflowers stand as a symbol of recovery for the small community which is driven by agriculture.

"It's great for morale, not only my own but the community as well," Mr Pengilley said.

"It's just nice to see some green, and when you add a bit of yellow and green in there it's a pretty nice thing to see."

The Pengilley family has held the property since the 1800s and sunflowers have been in the mix for as long as they can remember.

Most flowers stand about 2.5 metres tall and in the coming months their seed will be harvest for bird feed.

For Jeremy Pengilley's children it's the first time in years they've been able to enjoy a successful crop.

"They love running through them, having a look at the flowers, pulling the petals off and just enjoying playing hide and seek," he said.

"With the way things have been the last couple of years there hasn't been much growing at all, so to see something green and flowering is always a good sight."

Tourists turned away

The spectacular sight of sunflowers and other crops on the Liverpool Plains would normally attract tourists to the region, but this year onlookers are having to stay away because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

But there's confidence the sunflowers will be back again next year.

"The Liverpool Plains area is quite renowned for growing sunflowers, so whether we grow it or someone else does I think it's a natural drawcard for tourism in this region. And rightly so," Jeremy said.

"We welcome people in with open arms to come and have a look, try to get out of the city and just enjoy the country atmosphere when it's looking so good."

"It's unfortunate with how things are sort of panning out [with COVID-19] but there's always next year, there's always the year after," Alec said.

"I think tourists and other people who are interested, once all this thing has blown over, [will] come back up and have a look and see what the Liverpool Plains can do."

Nearing the end of the big dry

Most parts of the Liverpool Plains have already received more rain to April this year than last year's overall total, and some have seen more rain since New Years Day than they did for 2018 and 2019 combined.

It will take years for drought-affected farmers to get fully back on their feet, but to see crops almost ready to harvest is a good start.

"We put his in as a punt and obviously the end goal was to generate some cashflow ASAP. I think a lot of people have that same mindset," Alec said.

"The price at the moment is looking pretty solid and we'll just wait and see when it comes to harvest.

"It certainly has lifted morale around here and in the local community.

"But to say we're out of the worst drought in history, I think would be naive. But we are in good stead for the upcoming winter crop so things are starting to look up a little bit."


© ABC 2020

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