Holding on to harvest hopes

GrainCorp Barellan site manager Mark Strickland and area manager Brad Muller, inspect a crop of Scepter wheat. They are expecting receivals to be 15-20 per cent of an above average year. Photo: Kim Woods.

Headers began slicing into crops around the Narrandera Shire this week, heralding the start of the 2019 harvest and one of the smallest on record.

Moisture stress has claimed a portion of the region’s cereal and oilseed crops, with growers electing to take advantage of the hay market and bale wheat and canola.

GrainCorp Barellan area manager Brad Muller anticipates the first barley and canola receivals next week with harvest to wrap up before Christmas.

Mr Muller said regional receivals were expected to be down significantly on the average.

“This year at Barellan we are expecting to take 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes,” he said. “This is down from 200,000 tonnes in an above average year. In a big year we employ up to 50 staff and this year we will be looking at 10, and expect to finish in mid December.

“We usually have five full-time staff and the rest are casuals.”

Despite the shire receiving some of the lowest growing season rainfall in living memory, crops continued to fill on the back of summer weed control and moisture retention practices.

Barellan grain grower Neil Halden said if good rain was received two months ago, the “crops could have done anything”.

“I don’t know how they are holding on to be honest,” he said “The wheat we looked at the other day still had some flowers on it and that is astonishing.”

But, hot and windy weather in the past month has reduced average wheat yields from 1.6 tonnes/ha to 0.5t/ha.

Grower Jeff Savage counts 2019 as the toughest in his 30 year farming career.

“During the 2000s we had a year where we didn’t strip a grain but because of our changing farming practices, we are now growing crops  on minimal moisture,” Mr Savage said.

He will be harvesting canola, wheat, barley, lupins and field peas. With oilseed and pulse crop prices over $600/tonne, Mr Savage said growers taking crops with reasonable yields through to harvest could expect a tidy profit.

“But yields have only been 0.4-0.8t/ha so there is not going to be a lot of profit in it,” he said. “This puts a lot of pressure on people’s cash flow so they are talking to their banks to put the 2020 crop in.

“It puts pressure on every business in town with everyone feeling it from fuel, chemicals and seed providers through to the pubs, clubs and takeaway shops. University students usually get jobs at GrainCorp over the holiday period and those jobs aren’t going to be there.”

Ken and Will Overs, Barellan, cut their moisture stressed canola for hay and are hoping to sell it for $250-$300/tonne. They are harvesting barley this week, with better paddocks expected to yield over 2t/ha. Ken said weed management and moisture retention were key lessons from the drought.

“This is our third dry spring in a row but last year we got away with murder as we had three smallish rains to double our yield,” he said. “This is the toughest year rainfall wise in my 50 years of farming.”

Mr Overs expects a swing away from cropping to livestock in the region in 2020.

“People are nervous around the upfront expenditure on the cropping side but we will continue to focus on cops.”

Elders Riverina agronomist Pat Connell consults on crops between the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers.

“Generally crops are not too good with those anywhere north of the Murray suffering a severe lack of rainfall and wheat yields of 0.5-1t/ha on continuous cropping systems,” Mr Connell said. “On fallow ground, the yields will be double that. There is little yield potential in canola crops.

“Around 15 per cent of canola and 20 per cent of cereal crops have been cut for hay. Many weren’t deemed good enough to cut for hay so they will be carried through – although most growers will get their seed back.

“It will be hard going for the next 12 months – cash flow will be very tight.”

Mr Connell said the Tallimba, Weethalle, West Wyalong and Lake Cargelligo wheat crops would yield 0.5-1t/ha but some were a 100 per cent failure.

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