25 December 2012

The 1930 wheat harvest

I last posted on the topic of wheat growing and transportation in the Eumungerie area many months ago - and I had left the story at the end of 1929, at a very low ebb.

What then took Eumungerians and NSW politicians from the despair of late 1929 to a decision which would result in the tripling of the size of bulk grain facilities by 1933?

Certainly it was partially faith in the long term future of the district.  And then there was the need, at least recognised by Jack Lang’s NSW Labor Government when it was in power during this dire time of the need to provide rural people with worthwhile employment opportunities through public works (such as constructing silos) in the midst of the greatest economic and social dislocation of the 20th century. 

Ultimately it was the track record of the farmers of the location - the pluck reported in 1922 in the ‘Eumungerie will come again’ attitude of people like Farmer Buck, of “Rocky Bend” at Eumungerie did indeed prove that total crop failures at Eumungerie are few.

Once more, starting with the 1930/31 harvest, Eumungerie became the wheat-producing powerhouse of the Dubbo district, with highly skilled farmers tilling good cropping lands in an indomitable spirit.  There was great hope for this harvest, which was not matched by early reports.  In April 1930 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the seemingly ubiquitous:

… Mr. B. M. Arthur… states that during March thunderstorms of a patchy nature - in some parts rather severe in character - fell over practically the whole of his district, although some centres, particularly around Dubbo, missed nearly all of them… Some centres, such as Gulargambone, Armatree, and Eumungerie, had up to four inches.

Preparations for wheat cropping are still being actively carried out, and there is no doubt. Mr. Arthur considers, that with reasonably suitable conditions prevailing during the next three months a record area will be placed under crop.

One month later the same newspaper noted that:

As elsewhere in much of the wheat belt, the rainfall in the northern half of the western district (of which Dubbo is the centre) was much below requirements during April it was, however, sufficient in many cases to ensure a satisfactory germination, and also to connect up with the moisture stored in well-prepared fallows.

On the other hand, it also created tricky conditions where the moisture was patchy, thereby preventing either a dry sowing or one in a uniformly moist soil.  In some cases it caused a certain amount of malting in the grain.

Patchy thunderstorms early in the month benefited isolated localities, more particularly north of Dubbo, around Eumungerie, Gilgandra, Armatree, Dunedoo, and Coolah enabling sowing to be continued safely.  A general rain aggregating from 30 points to over an inch was received on April 24, and this was of incalculable benefit. A further half to one inch is required to make the position safe for all wheatgrowers.

A large area has already been sown, and farmers are steadily pursuing their way towards a record area objective, both individually and collectively. All, the local instructor (Mr B M Arthur) states, are optimistic that good results will be achieved.

Slowly this optimism evaporated, wilting under the enduring effects of a multi-year drought.  By October 1930 the Sydney Morning Herald recorded that

“Many crops, more particularly in the more western areas of this district, such as Trangie, Tomingley, Narromine, Collie, Eumungerie, and to a less extent Dubbo and other eastern areas, are severely feeling the effect of the prolonged dry conditions. They are wilting badly, and in some cases burning off rapidly."

In this way, Mr. B. M. Arthur, the senior agricultural instructor for the Dubbo district summarises the position at the end of September.

He declared that it was also having the effect of forcing all late-sown areas, and also crops on light soils to spindle and tend to run up to ear without stooling.

"The position is not yet by any means serious," Mr. Arthur continues, "but every additional dry day is giving many of the crops a further setback, and the record acre yields which seemed probable last month are rapidly disappearing. However, a useful rain of half an inch or more in the near future would go a long way towards rectifying the present position."

September was notable for the absence of rains of a useful nature (except in isolated places), and for frosts on several occasions, particularly late in the month, on 24, 25, and 26, and several windy days. These conditions altered the outlook, and instead of complaining of too much rain and an absence of hardening frosts, which was the position in August, growers are now hoping for early serviceable rains. They are also wondering what effect the recent frosts will have on the many forward overgrown, sappy crops now out in ear.

Some signs of stem rust have been seen in the Gilgandra and Narromine districts. Flag rust is to be seen in many crops, in some very badly. Powdery mildew has practically disappeared. Flag smut will, it is believed, take its usual toll, and has been seen on frequent occasions, but should not be more severe than in other years.

The report of rust at the start of October was replaced with worse news a fortnight later.  The same newspaper reported:   

In a report to the Department of Agriculture, the District Agricultural Instructor for the Dubbo district (Mr. B. M. Arthur) stated several days ago that following up rumours received in regard to rust in the crops he had investigated a number of paddocks at Eumungerie, Balladoran, Gilgandra, and Armatree, and had found stem rust to be very bad in some crops.

Nearly all the commonly sown commercial varieties had been affected, the only one that was fairly free and showing resistance was Nabawa…

A later report, written last Friday, and received by the department yesterday, states that Mr. Arthur was very perturbed about the amount and development of rust in the crops in the neighbourhood of Dubbo, particularly to the west and north, including Terramungamine, Rawsonville, Coboco, Eumungerie, and Balladoran.

He was not in a position to state definitely what would be the actual damage, but was inclined to think that it would be considerable and would extend over a wide area of the district before it finished.

Despite the existence of the rust blight, the newspaper could also report that the Government Statistician had issued an estimate based upon reports received from wheat growers throughout the State. 

The Statistician noted that the total area sown of 5,618,800 acres was 30 per cent greater than the previous harvest, and was a record in acreage sown.  This acreage was shared across a record 17,658 land holdings. 

Included in these numbers was Eumungerie’s offering of 106 holdings of 45,655 acres under wheat production and 3,854 hay-producing acres.  Eumungerie was the third largest district in the region.   In second place, Dubbo, there were 216 holdings cultivating 59,756 acres for wheat and 5,452 acres for hay.  The largest district surrounded Gilgandra, where a mere 166 holdings were responsible for 65, 382 acres of wheat production and 7,098 acres of hay making.

On 5 November 1930 grain elevators at Curban and Gilgandra opened for the season, receiving the first of the State’s harvest. A fortnight later the silo at Eumungerie opened to receive the bounty. 

When making the announcement of the silo opening, the commissioner indicated that about 20,000,000 bushels were expected to be received at the State's silos during the season.  Of this 8,000,000 to 12,000,000 bushels were to be used by local millers, with the remainder exported as bulk wheat.

By the end of the harvest, farmers along the Coonamble branch had accrued 600,000 bags of wheat – five times the year previous.  At 181,000 bags, Eumungerie had contributed nearly one third of the total. Years of drought, pestilence and disease had been endured and overcome.