Cold snap could be costly for Esperance grain growers

Zach RelphCountryman
Last week’s frost damaged crops near Esperance.
Camera IconLast week’s frost damaged crops near Esperance.

Farmers are counting the costs of crop damage after isolated but severe frosts dealt a cruel blow on WA’s south coast.

Temperatures dropped to below freezing at Esperance and surrounding areas last week, damaging the region’s crops, with reports emerging entire farms’ crops could be lost following the substantial stem frost.

It has left many farmers to decide whether to cut some crops for hay.

Salmon Gums was among the worst impacted by the cold conditions to have five-consecutive below freezing minimums from last Thursday to Monday at -07, -3.5, -2, -3.2 and -4.9.

It got as cold as -2.6C at Cascade, while -1C was recorded at Scaddan on Monday.

Grass Patch shivered to -0.2C on Friday, before reaching lows of -1.2C on Sunday and -2.3 on Monday.

The Esperance region’s freezing conditions have been followed by maximums of up to 30C, including 34.3C at Grass Patch on Monday.

Esperance-based agronomist Monica Field told Countryman the extent of the frost’s damage remained unknown.

However, she said there were reports multiple paddocks — and potentially entire farms — had been lost due to the substantial stem frost.

“There was one very severe frost last Friday morning, but it was as bad as -5C at Salmon Gums with an extended period of up to eight hours below zero,” she said.

“Salmon Gums has been very severely hit, as has parts of Beaumont and the top of Cascade — we are only just getting a handle on how bad it is.

“There are reports that some people have had 100 per cent losses.”

Grain Industry Association of WA latest crop report, released last month, estimated a 13.76 million tonne crop for this year.

It marked a 23.2 per cent drop on last year’s harvest.

GIWA executive member and crop report author Michael Lamond said more showers were needed to avoid a revised drop in the State’s harvest estimate.

“A frost like this for multiple hours, followed by heat, is the worst combination,” he said. “If there is no rain next week, the estimated tonnage could go down.

“We are on a knife-edge, but the crops — besides the frosted areas — still look pretty good, particularly in the north at Morawa, Mullewa and Mingenew.”

GIWA’s next crop report is expected to be released tomorrow.

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