Crops rule despite stock highs

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

Mount Barker farmer David Slade says the improving prices for livestock won't get him out of cropping.

Since the live export ban of cattle to Indonesia in 2011, Mr Slade has increased the farm's cropping enterprise to 2000ha of canola, wheat and barley on an average year.

He said the higher cattle and sheep prices were encouraging for the local industry but there was still a big economic divide between producing livestock and growing grain.

Mr Slade also still runs a solid livestock operation producing 6000 New Zealand Greeline composite lambs a year and about 600 Angus and Sussex crossbreed cows each year.

"We sold the lambs last week which was about a month earlier than usual because of the season drying off," he said.

Mr Slade said he had been breeding New Zealand Greeline composite sheep after an Ovine Johne's disease scare on the farm eight years earlier.

"We closed our original Merino flock and imported the semen of the breed, which is resilient to OJD, into the State," he said.

He said the hormonal growth promotant-free crossbreed cows were also an increasing lucrative enterprise.

"The cattle are a closed herd with a new bull every five to six years and we're lot-feeding about 600 head a year," he said.

"The hormone treatment makes them wild and impacts on their classing.

"Harvey Beef came to the party and agreed to pay for higher fat levels and that's working well for both of us because there is still a good level of marbling in the meat from the Angus breeding as well."

Mr Slade said the decision to move to a primarily broadacre enterprise was a difficult decision after many years invested in livestock.

"The ban meant we didn't make any money from cattle or sheep for two years," he said.

"We were forced to diversify and in doing so found that with a minimum till we're able to grow good crops in wet ground.

"And even now with the improvement in cattle and sheep prices cropping is still easily out-grossing the livestock enterprise," he said.

"Modern agronomy, high-tech equipment and bigger machinery have meant our yields continue to increase, whereas sheep and cows are labour- intensive and labour is expensive."

This year, Mr Slade planted 1000ha of canola, 500ha barley and 500ha wheat.

He said it had been a frustrating season.

"It's been good start to the season but a disappointing finish," he said.

"The season cut off and ended up being a bit average this year, but it still looks like we will make our five-year average yield for the property."

Mr Slade said his son Andrew marketed the grain and decided to sell early this year.

"We got about $500 for the GM canola," he said.

"Barley ranged from $240 to $280 and wheat was $323.

"So we thought the prices were acceptable and we don't expect they will move much."

Mr Slade said harvest had been the most challenging aspect of the season this year.

The cooler conditions had meant the crops have stayed moist, which had led to a delayed harvest and crop damage.

"We haven't had a single day above 28C in more than eight days, so definitely want conditions to warm up here a bit," he said.

"Some days we've only managed to harvest a few hours or not at all, which is very frustrating.

"We sowed the barely late this year because we'd had a late harvest and we put the canola in at the same time too.

"As a result, they lost half a tonne of barley through head loss due to the barley being left exposed to wind and the elements too long before getting to harvest. We don't expect to lose any more barley and we're hoping for a clear run of warm days and sunshine to finish our harvest."

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