Lucrative Patch to farm

SHANE WRIGHT AND JO FULWOODCountryman

LUCRATIVE FARMING AT GRASS PATCH

A spot 75km north of Esperance has found its way onto the list of WA’s richest areas.

Grass Patch, the farming community that was hard hit by severe bushfires last year, was found by the Australian Taxation Office to be the WA postcode with the 10th-highest mean taxable income.

It joined such high-profile rich hotspots such as Cottesloe, Peppermint Grove, Nedlands and Mosman Park in the annual ranking.

A good farming season meant that in the 2013-14 financial year the mean taxable income for the 99 people in the Grass Patch area reached $103,623.

It was Australia’s highest-ranked farming district.

The region, which is only now seeing second-generation farmers take over farming businesses, is predominately a grain growing area, with only a few businesses still running livestock.

Average farm sizes in the area are between 3000 and 6000ha, and despite the making the rich list, land values range between $1200-$2000/ha.

Local farmers Leon and Natalie Bowman said they were bemused but pleased by the honour, and thought Grass Patch farmers extremely deserving of such an accolade.

The couple, who have seen their small primary school close at the end of last year, believe farmers in the district are finally reaping the rewards of decades of hard work, with the area known for being unforgiving in its early pioneering days.

But Mr Bowman said the past three years had been consistently above average, both in terms of rainfall and profitability.

“It’s good to see our area being viewed in such a positive light and that the decades of hard work by farming families is finally paying off,’ he said.

Mr Bowman said farming practices, such as the introduction of canola, had meant improved crop rotations and bigger yields, translating into increased profitability over the longer term.

“Canola has made a big impact in this region,” he said.

“Ten years ago we weren’t growing it at all, but now it’s making up 20 per cent of our program. It’s proving very important in the rotation, and in our overall farm our profitably.”

Mr Bowman said farmers had become smarter at conserving moisture and responding to seasonal conditions.

He said while his business had not been severely impacted by the recent devastating fires, farms to the south and the west had lost farm infrastructure and large areas of crop.

“But strong winds right across the Esperance Port zone during November had a bigger impact on overall profitability of the zone,” he said.

Farmanco farm consultant Ben Curtis said farmers throughout the Esperance region were well known as being progressive early adopters of agricultural technology.

“They have traditionally been good at using gypsum, and survey yield maps to really get the most productivity out of their land,” he said.

But Mr Bowman said, like all grain producing areas, farmers were staring down the barrel of a break-even season at best, if grain prices remained at current lows.

“Thankfully for us though we’ve come off the back of several good years so we will still have strong cash flows,” he said.

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