Rain delays harvest for Harding family

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Harvest will be two weeks behind for the Harding family in Ongerup, after storms last week dumped 95mm of rain on their property in five days.

Luckily, most of the canola has been swathed and is sitting above a lake of water, the wheat still has a tinge of green but the barley might be stained.

Until the ground dries out, headers will not be going out in paddocks for what is the largest cropping program for the family since changing their system from mixed to total cropping a year ago.

John and Sally Harding, along with their eldest son, Wes - who works full-time on the farm - and their two other sons Tom and Lewis, and a group of friends to help, are hoping they can harvest soon.

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They will have three headers going plus chaser bins and trucks to harvest 5740ha of crops.

The outlook is for above-average yields with hopes wheat and barley will go 2.5t/ha, canola over 1t/ha and the peas 1.5t/ha.

"The crops are extremely even this year because we've had good rainfall each month," Sally said before Thursday's storm.

"We had really good establishment and it never got overly wet, which can affect yields on our low-lying country."

The full extent of last week's rain will be seen in the coming weeks.

After two dry seasons, the Hardings have taken a tough approach on a strong germination of ryegrass by crop topping, spray topping and burning windrows.

They are looking forward to being able to use Sakuara, a pre-emergent herbicide for Australian wheat that offers 97 per cent control of resistant annual ryegrass.

It's expected to be registered in time for next year's growing season.

With a big harvest to come in, the Hardings have pre-sold 10 per cent of their wheat and have been progressively selling barley and canola. They still have 50 per cent to sell.

Unlike many farmers who have switched from a mixed farm to growing crops, the Hardings made the change to give their perennials a chance to get established.

"We got rid of our sheep two years ago because it means we can fix our problem areas without having to worry about where to run our sheep," John said.

"We will leave it for maybe two years to establish before we make a decision on what we are going to run on the perennials."

Non-shearing sheep or cattle are the likely contenders but, in the meantime, low-lying country as well as crabholes and salt scalds are getting a chance to repair.

When John and Sally moved their family to Hazelwood in 1995, one of the first things they did was to fence off a low-lying lake area, plant trees around it with wheat grass sown between the rows and let the samphire plants in the middle regenerate.

Today, they harvest their own tall wheat grass seed, which will thrive from the rain, and is planted in problem areas at a rate of 14kg/ha along with 2kg/ha of puccinellia.

For harder to treat areas or those with heavier salt scalds, like the bare tops of crabholes, old man saltbush and river saltbush have been planted.

And after more than 10 years of experimenting with perennials, John said the key to a good establishment was to crop or work the area the previous year.

"This reduces weed burdens and loosens up compacted heavy soils," he said.

Fast facts *

_WHO: _John, Sally and Wes Harding, Hazelwood Farms

_WHERE: _Ongerup

_WHAT: _ 100 per cent cropping (5740ha)

·2080ha of wheat - Mace and Yitpi

·1950ha of barley - Hindmarsh, Vlamingh, Buloke and Mundah

·1030ha of canola - Cobbler, Crusher and Roundup Ready varieties 45Y22 and 404

·600ha of peas - Kasper and Gunyah

·80ha of serradella

·Fertiliser - 90kg of GUSTO on everything except peas, which had MAP

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