This last year has been a difficult one for our young plantings. The drought throughout the Murray Darling Basin continued, resulting in the first ever water restrictions being applied. South Australian irrigators were restricted to a 60% water budget. Ideally we would have liked to apply more water to the young palms than we did, but as you can see by the photos above, the palms still managed satisfactory growth.

The 'big dry' also escalated the occurrence and severity of frost during our last winter. Where in a normal winter we may experience two or three frost events of -1 or -2 degrees Celsius, last winter we had multiple frosts with a record low of -8 Degrees C on more than one occasion. Damage occurred to about 10% of plants where the tip of the emerging spears, were burned. This shortened the length of these leaves as they emerged and although they have been replaced with new leaves over the warmer months, it did set a few palms back. The frost however did not kill any of our palms at Gurra Downs.

The forecast for this coming season looks uncertain at best. The worst drought in recorded history continues. Governments have just announced a 13% only water allocation to begin our new irrigation season. Large scale loss of permanent plantings such as citrus, almonds, stonefruit and winegrapes are expected.
We hope to be able to maintain our young date plantation and date palm nursery by re-directing irrigation water away from our vineyard. That would be the worst case scenario. We pray that drought breaking rains will arrive soon.

The new varieties we have ready for field planting include Zahidi, Nemeishi, Khalas and Khadrawy along with more Medjool and Barhee. These will continue to be held in the nursery until water restrictions are eased.

We picked and sold a light crop this season from our 3 year old pomegranate bushes.
We also had success with a Artichoke intercrop trial this year which we intend to build on for next year. We have also just planted a few prickly pear plants to see how they go.

Farm report for year ending June 30, 2008.

This past year has been yet another exciting action-packed year, presenting both testing times as well as rewarding times.

The ongoing drought which has plagued the Murray River Basin continues, with our final irrigation allocation being limited to 32% for the 2007/08 year.  Our company decided to lease in water from other irrigators upstream who were prepared to trade water rather than use it themselves.  This arrangement ensured we could supply the water requirements for our date palms and vineyard.

Our vineyard suffered quite a lot of salt-burn from irrigating through a 4 week period when the weirpool levels dropped which significantly concentrated salinity levels in the remaining body of the Gurra Gurra Wetlands.  Surprisingly our vines recovered to produce slightly above average yields.  Due to the drought affected national shortage of winegrapes, prices increased.  After receiving a premium for growing certified organic grapes we ended up fluking one of our best years.

Our palms have now been in the ground for 3 1/2 years.  We are amazed how well they have grown this year and how well suited they seem to be to our conditions.  Most varieties would have at least doubled in size during the past 12 months and suddenly there are offshoots appearing at the base of the palms.  No genuine flowering from our home property trees yet but we are hopeful that the palms may now be big enough that a little flowering could occur this Spring (Sept/Oct).

Trial extension                                                                                                                                                                             We extended our trial plantings of date palms to include Khadrawy and Zahidi and installed shadeguards to help protect against wind, extreme frosts and summer temperatures.  Palms will grow up through the guard becoming hardier and hardier.  Guards are totally removed after the second winter.

Irrigation Upgrade                                                                                                                                                                       We decided to change the irrigation system from a single dripper to an adjustable bubbler system.  With palms having outgrown the maximum output of the single dripper, we were impressed by the bubbler basin irrigation methods we had looked at in the United Arab Emirates the year before and decided to adopt that technique for ourselves.

We dug a substantial moat or basin around each palm ensuring that the palm in the centre was still elevated to avoid waterlogging.  The bubbler system could fill this basin (approx 150 litres) in a one hour irrigation schedule.  The bubblers are adjustable and can be turned down to just a drip if required.

We then back-filled the basins with a generous amount of aged grape-marc (grape seed) mulch to reduce evaporation, weeds and aid in frost control while providing beneficial organic matter and nutrients.  Once this mulch is wetted up it stays wet.  We have noticed the date palm roots quickly grow throughout even the thickest of mulch coverings.

Fertilizer                                                                                                                                                                      Supplied approx 25kg/palm of composted cow manure plus measured amounts of potassium sulphate, zinc and manganese sulphate and chicken manure throughout the growing season.  We will shortly be conducting a leaf tissue test to determine if we need to correct any defficiencies.

Intercrops                                                                                                                                                                     Pomegranates performed well this year with our first light commercial pick.  Sold certified organic pomegranates into the Adelaide and Melbourne markets.

Our spring/summer period this year was long and dry.  For those who are familiar with the heat unit +18 degrees Celsius table, we experienced 2400 heat units from September 2007 to end March 2008 with approx 25mm rainfall.  Our season did eventually break in May with around 25mm of rain but not before we suffered some of the worst dust/sand storms in 20-30 years.

We sowed oats between the date palms in late May to supplement the diet of weeds for our squadron of geese and also to help bind the soil to hopefully avoid drift.





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