By HARRY CLARKE
YOUNG farmhand and aspiring mechanic Maigan Lenehan is receiving an amazing introduction to the cotton industry, embarking on a career on the land at a time when good rainfall and fortuitous temperatures are generating yields never seen before in some areas.
At the property Doonkami, where Lenehan has been working south of Goondiwindi, the best dry land paddock produced an all time record of 7.7 bales to the hectare while prices were above the “magic number” of $1,000 per bale during the beginning of the harvest.
Doonkami averaged 5.5 bales to the hectare, which owner Scott Baker said was courtesy of consistent rainfall and a mild summer.
“This is the best yield we’ve ever had with dry land cotton, smashing the previous high yield by 1.6 bales which is quite significant for dry land,” Baker said.
“It’s been an ideal season for it. We’ve had rain at the right time and everything aligned this year.
“It was a very mild summer, not too hot compared to previous years. I think we had only one day over 40 degrees. It sat between 33 to 38 degrees all summer, which is just ideal cotton growing conditions.”
Areas along the Macintyre River around Yetman and North Star had up to 400mm of rain over the summer and up to 300mm since the end of March.
The wet weather has hindered harvesting schedules but Baker said that wasn’t a bad problem to have.
“It’s been like having an irrigated crop really. The rain just kept falling at the right times. We had 170mm two days before we were about to start, so that put us back three weeks.
“It made it challenging, but I’d rather keep it that way than what we’ve had in previous years.
“The prices have been unreal as well. I haven’t seen prices like this since about 2011 which was the last time we it hit the magic number of $1,000 for a bail.”
In more recent weeks prices in the Macintyre Valley have been hovering around $800-900 per bale, which local agronomist Robert Austen from McGregor Gourlay (pictured) said was creating strong margins for farmers.
“There’s been some phenomenal yields in the dry land paddocks. I’ve heard of some growers getting up around nine bales to the hectare and a lot are averaging around six,” Austen said.
“It’s been a terrific season. It’s not often that you finish a season still full of irrigation water. The yields are great and there are good dollars in the bale as well.”
Wet weather and consequent interruptions to harvesting has meant roughly 40 percent of cotton in the Macintyre Valley, from west of Texas to east of Mungindi, is still in the paddock.
Harvesters are expected to continue running until at least the end of July but for Maigan Lenehan, her work in the area is done.
As the 19-year-old wraps up a two month stint working for the Baker family at Doonkami, she plans to head further west to begin employment ahead of the planting season at a property near St George.
In a sign that even young people accustomed to a coastal lifestyle are prepared to take up careers in the country, Lenehan moved away from Byron Bay as soon as she finished school to work on farms, despite having limited connections out west.
“I knew that I always had a passion for the agricultural lifestyle and mechanics and I always wanted to get into the industry,” Lenehan said.
“I’ve got some family near Inverell and this Goondiwindi pretty close to that. I thought I’d come out here and have a go. What’s the worst that could happen?
“I prefer to have dirt on my hands than sand in my toes.”
Lenehan, who graduated high school last year, said she hoped to begin a mechanical engineering apprenticeship after a year working on farms.
“I thought this was a good opportunity to learn a few things before I get into the industry,” she said.
“Hopefully I can start working with farmers once I finish my apprenticeship, come out to places like this and fix what I need to fix.
“I have a few mates from out there and that’s probably where it (my interest in farming) started. I like the rougher lifestyle – the quad bikes, the dirt bikes, the four-wheel-driving, the horses.
“I’ve been learning a lot of different things, especially here at Doonkami. You’re learning with the sheep, you’re out in the tractor, you’re learning about the picker, you’re fixing things.
“There are so many life skills that I think are so necessary, especially as a young female trying to be independent and not always relying on the men to help you get out of situations.”