The Nicoletti family’s property in Western Australia is as large as Singapore and growing like China. This year they’re sowing 82,000 hectares, making their grain crop one of the largest plantings in Australia’s history.

Story By Fleur Bainger

It’s not unusual to hear farmers compared to gamblers, repeatedly staking their fortunes on the roll of a dice, the outcome totally dependent on the hand Mother Nature deals them. If that analogy is true, West Australian crop farmer John Nicoletti could be described as one of the high rollers, investing heavily in a risky game with significant rewards if the cards play out right and heavy losses if they don’t. In a gutsy move, he’s decided to sow 82,000 hectares this year, making his grain crop one of the largest individual plantings in Australian history.
With commodity prices at record levels, good summer rains and an ever-expanding property, the 54 year-old has decided to plough $10 million into the ground in the hope of cashing in about $40 million after harvest. If all goes well, the past two tough, drought-ridden years will fade fast into memories he’d rather forget. If not, well, there’s always next year. “I call it calculated risk,” John, a self-professed optimist, says. “If I was a worrier, I wouldn’t do what I’m doing.”
That calculated risk is rooted in the breadth and diversity of land that John and wife Giuliana have bought up over the past 30 years. Their property is spread from Mullewa in Western Australia’s mid-west to Esperance on the south coast, taking in Westonia, Bullfinch, Marvel Loch and Quairading. Stretching 1120 kilometres in length, the Nicolettis' holdings this year host a majority wheat crop, followed by barley, lupins, canola, oats and field peas, as well as 50,000 ewes and 3000 breeding cows. Spreading risk over a large area with variable climatic conditions is a trick John learned after suffering in the 2002 drought. “All of my farming was across the same area,” he says. “I had the biggest drought, lost $4 million and thought, ‘There’s got to be a way to overcome this’. Then I thought, ‘Look at Kidman and those blokes who have land everywhere’. So I looked around and decided to lease at Esperance.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #61

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2008