In 1865, George Goyder who was a surveyor and one of the first settlers out in south Australia, surveyed the south Australian state to produce a report and a map for the state Government which showed a line of demarcation, writes Brown&Co’s George Lane.
This is a line that runs roughly east to west across South Australia and in effect joins places with an average rainfall of 10 inches.
North of Goyder’s line, annual rainfall is usually too low to support cropping with the land being only suitable for grazing.
Related to that, the line also marks a distinct change in the vegetation. To the south it is composed mainly of Mallee scrub while salt bush predominates to the north of the line.
It is quite clear from aerial images these days where Goyder’s line travels.
As you can see, the green of the more productive land through to the north and eastern land which is orange sand, otherwise known as the bush or the outback.
It is quite amazing that such a survey was carried out over such a vast area and to such accuracy and during my travels throughout south Australia, it was clear to a couple of kilometres where Goydor’s line had been mapped.
I visited a sheep station just outside of Burra with Rural directions’ Tara Graetez, the farm which is owned by Richard Sawyers.
This farm was roughly 600 acres and was right on the border of Goyder’s Line and comparing this to the sheep station which I visited the week previous out in the bush far north of Goyder’s line, this land of Richard Sawyers was clearly more productive, with the potential of a maximum headage of 350 ewes over the 600 acres.
In contrast to the 110,000 acre station of Wadaminga which could only carry a maximum stocking of 7,500 ewes shows how drastic the change is either side of Goyder’s line. But that is not to say that south of this line farmers still do not have their challenges.
Most of Richard’s sheep were Merino’s x Black Faced Suffolk’s. These Black Faced Suffolk’s are the lesser common breed of Suffolk sheep found in Australia, with the White Faced Suffolk being more popular due to its hardiness against the sun and the heat.
To maximise the potential of the land at Richard Sawyers farm, it needed quite a bit of investment into infrastructure such as fencing and water troughs, so that a paddock grazing system could be put in to place to improve the utilisation of the grass through grazing.
This year there has been a heavy requirement for supplementary feeding due to the drought which had deteriorated the pastures.
It was quite amazing whilst travelling around the farm that it reminded me of the Yorkshire Dales due to the undulating topography and the peaks of the hills, albeit the temperature was far kinder with the sun being more prominent in this area than that of the Yorkshire Dales.
One of the issues that Richard faced with the drought was when he brought in some 6 month old Merino lambs from the outback which were behind where expected due to the drought.
With this, Richard had to buy in hay and some barley to push them on so they could get to weight. Richard informed me that if these lambs became Wethers then they would be worth roughly $5 less per kilo than if they were still classed as lambs.
Another fascinating part of the farm was that it was home to quite a rare lizard called the Pigmy Bluetongue Lizard, which lived down the rare Wolf Spider holes, these spiders happen to be extremely poisonous, but that doesn’t bother the Pigmy Bluetongue Lizard!
They were that rare that David Attenborough actually came to the farm and did a programme about these lizards and spiders.
A few days later after visiting Richard’s farm at Burra, I ventured across from Goyder’s line out into the Mallee with Patrick Redden of Rural Directions.
Out in the Mallee we visited an arable farm which consisted of combinable cropping. We were there to assess potential yields and to look at the quality of the land. As soon as we got there it was very apparent that this is far more extensive and a lower yielding area that I had ever been to before.
Walking through crops of wheat and barley where you could mostly see just sand rather than crop was eye-opening for me. Although, Patrick reassured me that even with the drought here, they would still be getting between half a tonne to the hectare to a tonne a hectare, which I am told is good for the Mallee.
Whilst travelling around the farm, there were a fair few areas that were not cropped, these could only be describe as sand dunes and due to some of the high winds that occurred, the sand dunes had actually blown though which had then moved the sand even further out into cropped land.
From this farm, we travelled north of the Mallee towards the River Murray, which is one of the main rivers in Australia and provided South Australia with the vast majority of its water.
This is only possible due to a series of locks across the river holding the water back. We travelled up to Loxton which is a small town on the side of the river where Rural Directions had an office.
We met with Richard Sanders who is an agronomist for Rural Directions and worked out of the Loxton office. Richard very kindly took us for guided tour around the Riverlands which were absolutely fascinating considering where I had just come from.
Due to the availability of irrigation from the river, the lands either side of the river were full of highly productive, well irrigated crops such as almond trees, citrus plantations, vineyards and table fruits.
Around this area, Richard informed us that there was a considerable boom in the planting of almond trees due to the high demand domestically, but more importantly internationally.
Due to the climate in this area and the readily availableness of water from the Murray River, it was prime land to be growing such crop, with Richard adding that the almond crops were the most water hungry crop grown in the area, even more so than any of the citrus or vineyards that were located there.
Whilst travelling around it felt like we were in a bit of an oasis next to this beautiful river, yet we didn’t have to travel far before we were back into the Mallee.
It was amazing that through innovation and the investment in to infrastructure that such crops could be grown in this area, especially considering how far away from Goyder’s line we were.
We then drove back through the Mallee, back towards Goyder’s line, with the odd emu or kangaroo moving around in vast paddocks alongside the road.
As we got closer to Goyder’s line, you would see the green coming towards you and the more productive country soon became apparent when you start driving through relatively green pastures full of livestock and then in to vineyards once again.
It was throughout these travels that I realised how vast South Australia is but also how diverse the agriculture was in these areas where I thought it would not be possible.
Not only in the river lands, but also in the Mallee where I take my hat off to the farmers as it appears to be very challenging for them, not only in this year of drought but in average rainfall years.