Eastern states harvest washout

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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It was set to be the season that saved eastern states farmers, but as the rain continues to bucket down, growers are watching their hopes of a bumper season literally wash away.

Final estimates on how much it will cost the grains industry are still being determined, but early reports have the figure as high as $2 billion.

In September, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics put the eastern states harvest at around 23 million tonnes, but now some growers are expected to write off entire cropping programs.

Across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, Graincorp has received just 5.08 million tonnes and segregations for sprouted canola, weather-affected wheat and field fungi-affected chickpeas have opened.

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NSW Farmers’ Association grains committee chair Mark Hoskinson said after 10 years of drought, growers had hoped to recoup some of their previous losses on what was expected to be a profitable season.

Some had even invested in machinery to help harvest what was expected to be their biggest crop in years.

Croppers had high hopes for yield and prices right up until the eleventh hour, but Mr Hoskinson said many had low equity levels and would now be forced to make the tough decision on whether they could continue farming.

“What’s going to be left will hardly compensate for the losses of the past 10 years, let alone this year, ” he said.

“It’s a massive hit in the hip pocket, because a lot of money was put out for rust and pest control and a lot of urea, and that’s been shot now.

“The mental health aspect is dramatic. People were on a high before harvest, but we are really concerned now.”

Rain events late last week meant many farmers could not even get onto their paddocks, and those that could were finding quality and weight had been downgraded.

At Mr Hoskinson’s Kikoira farm, 120mm of rain fell last Wednesday alone.

Wheat that was going APH2 has since been downgraded and $100 a tonne wiped off.

Mr Hoskinson’s test weight was sitting at around 82 or 83, but now he has been getting just 74kg a hectolitre.

Halfway through his program, extra front tyres have been put on Mr Hoskinson’s harvester in an attempt to keep it from getting bogged.

Other areas haven’t fared better.

“Around Coonamble and Walgett, there could be a lot of losses, and Young and Cowra have sustained a lot of damage from water, ” Mr Hoskinson said.

The only plus is the deluge of rain will give growers the subsoil moisture to get an early start on canola and pulses next year.

In Victoria, some growers recorded 250mm in a 14-day period — more than they received for all of 2008.

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