‘Lucky’ farmer faces big loss

Rueben HaleThe West Australian
Beacon farmer Ben Andrews expects to get less than half a tonne to the hectare of grain from this year's wheat crop and he considers himself to be one of the lucky ones.
Camera IconBeacon farmer Ben Andrews expects to get less than half a tonne to the hectare of grain from this year's wheat crop and he considers himself to be one of the lucky ones.

West Beacon farmer Ben Andrews describes his farm as “one of the lucky ones” as record dry conditions leave a wake of decimated crops in the area.

Local contractors there report spraying out crops for the last month in Beacon and areas close-by as the wilted remains of this year’s wheat, oats, lupins, and canola become a burden to the soil.

Mr Andrews, who cut his cropping program by 1500ha amid dry conditions until August, said the season had been a sickening rollercoaster ride for the farming community as they clung to hope each day that the heavens would open before their crops failed.

This year, Ben, wife Kerry, father Irwin, brother Dale and sister-in-law Heather will harvest between 0.3 and 0.5 tonnes of grain to the hectare from a 3500ha crop, which will not cover costs.

They planted wheat, lupins and oats this year alongside 1600ha of sheep, without 700ha of canola they’d planned to grow.

“We normally like to plant canola, but this year we decided not to put any in because of lack of summer rains and a late-breaking season,” Mr Andrews said.

“That turned out to be a very good decision with the benefit of hindsight,” he said. “In comparison, we would normally plant over 5000ha.”

Mr Andrews said like most farmers in the district, the family was concerned about seeding into the dry earth in May.

“The moisture was so far down there was no chance of underground damp joining up with the surface moisture without a significant and consistent rainfall,” he said.

“I reckon we had 45mm of summer rainfall and it was all in February. After that, we had a little amount of rain on one property in May which has given us a small crop there. But our first significant rain didn’t come until August, and by that time 80 per cent of our crop was almost dead.”

Mr Andrews said the recent rains had come too late to make a difference.

“This year has been hard, giving us a little bit of hope at various times and then repeatedly having it taken out from under you again. The rains in August got the crops going, so the crops proliferated, and things started to look good.

“So at that stage, we thought we would grow enough crop to cover costs at least but now we are back to facing a large financial loss, and we’re one of the lucky ones that have something to harvest.”

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