Newdegate farmer Joseph Butcher.

Best start since the ‘90s - Newdegate farmers hopeful for more rain and no frost for season ahead

Main Image: Newdegate farmer Joseph Butcher.

Headshot of Shannon Verhagen

After a tough few years battling frost and drought, there are hopes the tides are turning for Newdegate farmers.

With rainfall for the year almost nudging into triple-figure territory, it is one of the best starts to the season they have had in years.

Some even claim it was all the way back in the 1990s the Wheatbelt community last got a start like this.

Third-generation farmer Jos Butcher — who crops wheat, barley, canola, lupins, oats for hay, and peas on 4900ha with his father David and younger brother Rupert — said it had provided hope for a better season.

Although getting off to a later start than hoped after assembling their new airseeder, he said it was “not often” farmers got the kind of guaranteed rain that came from ex-tropical cyclone Seroja, which dumped 30mm on their property.

The wet start — coupled with high prices — prompted them to add canola into their rotation for the first time in three years, and they have seeded more than ever.

“Dad has a rule that if it doesn’t rain by a certain time we don’t put it in,” Mr Butcher said.

Germination is so important — getting it out of the ground is the hardest part.

Jos Butcher

And they are already seeing promising results.

“I went for a drive around the other day and we’ve got pretty good germination of canola — every-thing’s out of the ground,” Mr Butcher said. It is a welcome change for the young farmer, who came back to the property in 2018 and has spent the past three years dry-seeding.

The decision to come back to his Wheatbelt roots happened organically after he left his job working as a diesel mechanic in Perth.

“I wasn’t initially planning on coming back to the farm,” he said.

I thought ‘I’ll just come back for harvest’, but then I realised how much I loved it and decided to stay.

Jos Butcher
Newdegate farmer Joseph Butcher and his partner Greta Wolzak.
Camera IconNewdegate farmer Joseph Butcher and his partner Greta Wolzak. Credit: Picture: Shannon Verhagen

His partner, wedding photographer Greta Wolzak, joined him and has made the most of the country change, immersing herself in the community as the sponsorship and promotions co-ordinator for the upcoming Newdegate Machinery Field Days.

Mr Butcher — who is on the Newdegate Football Club committee — shares her passion for photography, purchasing a drone which he uses to capture life on the farm from above.

Last year, incredible photographs he took of the Newdegate Community Cropping Group’s harvest — which saw nine headers, five chaser bins and dozens of volunteers take part — went “viral” online.

The local community turns out to harvest wheat at the Newdegate Community Crop in December 2020.
Camera IconThe local community turns out to harvest wheat at the Newdegate Community Crop in December 2020. Credit: Joseph Butcher

Mr Butcher said he loved having Ms Wolzak by his side and working with his father and brother.

“We all have a vested interest in the farm, so it’s good to know that whatever is being done will be done to a decent standard — everyone’s striving to do their best,” he said.

He also has a helper in rescue pup Ada, a kelpie-doberman cross he adopted in 2019.

“She’s got the energy of a kelpie, but she’s also pretty docile,” Mr Butcher said. “She loves being with you all the time and laying in the tractor cab,” he laughed.

With moisture in the soil and a solid germination, this year’s start has given hope to growers in the region who have battled through some of their toughest seasons in recent years.

Newdegate farmer Joseph Butcher.
Camera IconNewdegate farmer Joseph Butcher.

However, Mr Butcher said they were also nervous about what lay ahead. “We’re probably close to about 100mm now ... it’s been pretty good,” he said.

A few people around town have looked back over the historical figures and are saying this is the best rainfall start since 1996.

Jos Butcher

“So there’s a lot of hope but it’s also scary as well. It all comes down to August and September.

“And out here we’re worried a bit about frost.

“We get hammered by it.

In 2018 we got hit by a big frost — it went down to about minus six degrees for a couple of hours and just annihilated the crops.

Jos Butcher

“That was a really tough year, and the last couple of years with the dry have been hard, too.”

Mr Butcher hoped everything would continue on the trajectory it had so far, with three wishes for the rest of the season.

“A lot more rain, no frost and bumper crops,” he said.