Linton Brimblecombe

Farm: Moira

Region: Forest Hill, Lockyer Valley, Queensland

Commodity: Irrigated vegetables, dryland grains, pulses, lucerne

Farming area: 688 hectares (1700 acres)

Rainfall: 820—1000 mm per year

Email: linminbrim@bigpond.com

Phone: 07 5465 4151

 

I know there will be significant challenges for local growers into the future; the first being temperature, followed by rainfall and water security, and external market drivers. But local growers are working hard to combat climate variability—that’s the specific driver for everyone’s business.

 

See what Linton has to say about:

 

Three generations of varying climate in the Lockyer Valley

My family has been farming in the Valley for almost 130 years. After fighting in the Great War, my grandfather came back to the area and bought this property in 1925. He farmed it with my father, then my dad transferred the management rights to me in the late 1980s.

Since taking over from my dad, my wife and I have changed the focus of the farm from cotton to predominantly vegetables.

Over the years we have built up the property to 1700 acres. We irrigate about 900 acres, dryland crop another few hundred acres, and have water storages on another couple of hundred acres.

The Lockyer Valley typically has a mild sub-tropical climate with long, hot summers and short, mild winters.

My grandfather, father and I have all noticed varying climate in the Valley over our lifetimes. Looking back, I’ve noticed that the climate here changes by the decade. The 1950s and 1970s were wet, while the 1960s, 1980s and 2000s have been dry.

For most of the farmers in the Valley, the biggest issue that has come from this changing climate is warmer temperatures. Since 2000, we have been getting more days above 30°C, which has substantially impacted on planting times and how we manage water.

Linton discusses the variable climate in Queensland's Lockyer Valley

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Warmer temperatures disrupting planting times

In horticulture, warmer temperatures are one of the most disruptive climate variables to the management and timing of the operation.

Vegetables are normally grown in winter months, but we are trying to meet demands outside of this window and plant in late summer. We have already moved from January planting to February planting, and in 10 years’ time I expect we will be planting in March.

If we plant early, one way we deal with these hot days is to irrigate twice a day. This does a good job of cooling the crop and soil. While this does offset heat stress, it can be costly and it also increases the chance of disease.

Other ways farmers can adapt as the climate shifts is to have farms in multiple locations. This kind of business is becoming more and more common.

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Reducing our dependence on rain by irrigating more efficiently

Although we are worried about warmer temperatures, the most significant issue we face on our farm is water security.

Over half of our land is irrigated with our own water so we are very dependent on rain constantly filling our dams. We’ve got 2 water reserves, giving us about 2000 megalitres of storage.

Because we operate under contracts, we have to have at least 2 years’ worth of water in our reserves at any time. When our reserves are full this offers us a fair bit of flexibility with what we grow—namely, more water-intensive crops such as broccoli, sweet corn, onions and green beans.

However, when they aren’t full we have to watch them carefully and make sure we can last the 2 years without any major rain.

Given the conditions of the last few years, we have conserved our water by improving our irrigation system to reduce any waste from run-off or evaporation.

The state government’s Rural Water Use Efficiency Initiative has been very helpful in this cause. The program helped us improve our irrigation and our knowledge of how much water our plants need.

Over the years, we’ve also upgraded our irrigation from flood irrigation to hand sprinklers to lateral irrigators (booms with sprinklers attached, spanning 100 metres), and now we have a brand new 350-metre boom. This means we can irrigate longer, more efficiently, and with less labour.

Other advantages of this system are that our irrigator shifting time will be halved, as will the manpower to do the job, and our water efficiency will increase from 83 per cent to 90 per cent efficiency. Because it’s quicker, we can also irrigate at times when the crops particularly need it; for example, if they are stressed on very hot days.

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Investing in solar energy to reduce power costs and possible future tax costs

In 2010, my brother and I decided to invest in solar panels to generate electricity for our farms in St George and the Locker Valley.

For us, it made good economic sense and was just another way of protecting our business against foreseeable changes in power costs, not to mention the touted carbon tax, which was a bit of an unknown.

After a bit of research we realised that solar panels were not widely used in our areas and, if they were, they were often attached to sheds and were not being used as effectively as they could be.

Luckily we were able to source a very handy engineer who was able to knock us up a system which was able to track the sun as it moves across the sky. This meant that the panels would always be in full sunlight and would be able to generate max power. The solar panels are connected to an axle which a small, self-sustaining motor turns hourly.

So far we can generate 270 kilowatts a day during summer and about 170 kilowatts a day during winter, which is more than we need to power irrigation pumps, our sheds and houses. Whatever is left, we sell back to the grid.

People always ask me whether it is affordable and sustainable. Given electricity prices at the moment, we predict it will probably take about 5 years to pay for itself.

Like everything new, panels will get cheaper as the technology becomes more used and supply becomes greater—so I only foresee that in light of growing power prices, solar is a cheap way to secure and sustain your business, not to mention that it is good for the environment.

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Rotating crops to improve disease resistance and soil structure

My wife and I grow onions, lucerne, sweet corn and broccoli under irrigation; wheat, sorghum and mung beans under dryland conditions; and we also have some seed production.

We take crop rotation seriously, using a mixture of crops to break disease cycles. By carefully managing our rotations, we can reduce problems with disease that come from moisture and having a bit of heat.

Cloudy days and humidity can therefore severely affect our business, especially because we are already stretching our growing windows.

Another advantage of these rotations is we can build up the organic matter in our soils when we turn them over to dryland production through no-till practices. This helps retain more moisture in the soil, leaving the soil in an overall better condition.

I know there will be significant challenges for local growers into the future; the first being temperature, followed by rainfall and water security, and external market drivers. But local growers are working hard to combat climate variability—that’s the specific driver for everyone’s business.

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Contact Linton Brimblecombe

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