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Landowners, Drogemuller Road, Moorook

Interview: 26th May 2012

 Florence and George Burdon and their sons Craig (pictured) and Ian have established significant almond plantations adjacent to Yatco Lagoon.

The Burdonís came to be at Moorook purely by chance. In the early 1970ís George worked as an accountant for Olympic Tyre and Rubber and through his business activities he became aware of and purchased a 10 acre patch of almonds at Willunga.

In doing so he met one of the almond industry pioneers, Eric Lacey, who had established plantings at Willunga and at Lindsay Point north of Renmark.

On visiting Lindsay Point, George and Florence started looking at new sites to expand their almond growing interests and in 1981 they purchased their first Moorook property from Philip and Maria Martin.

In 1982 they began establishing 40 acres of almonds at Moorook and started their journey to settle on their property. The Burdonís sons Ian and Craig moved first to Moorook to manage the new development while living in a caravan on Section 711.

George declined an offer to join Dunlop in Melbourne following its takeover of Olympic, however, he accepted a short term accounting position with CSR (a mining company) at Mount Gunston and a 6 month contract soon became 2 years, which was extended for another 2 years by the new owners of the mine.

In appreciation of Georgeís service, the mining company gifted him a transportable home which he transported to the Moorook property for the boys.

Fortunately, Georgeís working roster was 21 days on and 7 days off which enabled George and Florence to visit their Willunga and Moorook almond properties regularly.

During this time a further 40 acres of almonds was developed at Moorook in 1983 and eventually the Willunga property was sold in 1984.

Finally, in 1986 George and Florence moved permanently to Moorook and moved into their first Moorook home ó a log cabin which they relocated from the Adelaide Hills. By this stage, 160 acres of almonds had been planted.

In Georgeís words ó he became an ďorchard workerĒ, although his accountancy skills were an obvious asset to their business.


Neighbourís Jeff and Yvonne Drogemuller agreed to let Burdonís locate their pump in their sump, from which they irrigated their entire 160 acres.

In 1982, irrigation was somewhat of an unknown for the Burdonís, and following several visits to almond plantations in Victoria and New South Wales, they were impressed by a drip irrigated orchard in Robinvale.

Despite advice from some leading almond growers and many others to steer them away from drip irrigation, they have used this method of irrigation ever since day 1.

Their initiative proved to be successful, as drippers delivered less water per tree than low throw sprinklers, and by suspending the drip lines through the trees in an unconventional manner, the drip action can be easily observed and does not interfere with ground sweeping and harvesting operations.

Along the way, expertise was sought from Departmental experts, Tom Simes and Trevor Sluggett, and other growers in Noel Sims at Simarloo, who were all very helpful. Loxton Irrigation was also part of the journey.

Interestingly, 20 years on, drip irrigation in tree crops is widely accepted and adopted as best practice.

Tree health and pump relocation

In the late 1980ís and early 1990ís, signs of leaf burn became obvious and the almond trees were not flourishing. The cause of the problem was high salinity irrigation water, and despite this, the problem was tolerated.

In 1992, a further 700 acres was purchased and an additional 260 acres of almonds was established, all on drippers, and the salinity impacts were again tolerated.

The Burdonís  increased awareness of salinity led to closer monitoring of the lagoon and salinity levels in leaf samples. A salinity meter was purchased by the Burdons and Drogemullers. Salinity levels were measured regularly by Craig at the sump in the lagoon and at other locations in the lagoon, as well as directly across in the river.

To begin with, the results in Burdon's almonds showed little sign of the effects of high chloride levels, but over a period of time the chloride levels in almond leaf samples began to exceed the Department of Agricultureís recommend threshold of less than 0.3%. Readings were quite often greater than 1.0% chloride. The trees began to show signs of leaf burn. Some years the effects were more pronounced than others depending on water flow through the lagoon.

In a year of high river flow the lagoon would be flushed of saline water and the salinity level would drop to a level similar to that of the river, but once the flood receded, the lagoon salinity would rapidly increase and return to approximately 1200 EC units. Because of the lack of flow through the narrow creeks at the up-stream end of the lagoon (a lot of the time the creeks were blocked with clay and reeds), salinity levels would remain high even if the river was flowing strongly.

Craig remembers one drought year when the local river irrigators were deeply concerned that the salinity level of their irrigation water had reached over 800 EC units. At the same time the Burdon and Drogemuller orchards were experiencing salinity levels above 1,500 EC units. Their orchards could not tolerate this level of salinity over a prolonged period and it became apparent that something had to be done before the orchards health declined to a point of no return. The irrigation business Loxton Irrigation was approached and provided a quote for a relocated river pumping system and pipeline to their orchards, which came in at over 50% less than a previous quote by another company. It was quickly decided to go ahead with the project.

The Burdonís together with the Drogemullers shifted their pumps to the river in 2003/04 and shared the infrastructure for the power.

The tree health changed immediately, yields increased, trees flourished and the trees have never looked back.

The environment

The Burdonís have not been actively involved in the Yatco Wetland Management Plan because they had already obtained a fresher source of water prior to 2008.

George and Florence have always admired the beauty of the lagoons and lamented the dead read gums around the edge of the lagoons that had died before they arrived in the area. It was a shock to see the lagoon completely dry in 2008 and despite some concerns about odours caused by drying ó these never eventuated.

They have observed many new reeds in the lagoons and they love an occasional feed of yabbies.

There is an acceptance that nature has determined the development opportunities around the lagoons, including their own pump relocation to the river, and the need for the channel irrigators to move their pumps to the river.

Ironically, nature in the form of consecutive high rivers has delayed the relocation schedule.

Interviewers note

It is highly likely that had the Drogemullers and the Burdons not relocated their pumps to the river in 2003/04 it may have been too difficult to dry the lagoon due to the higher cost of sourcing alternative water supplies.

Hence, this move may have been the critical step in gaining a better outcome for all irrigators and the lagoon.