Resiliencein face of bad frost

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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WA’s harvest has well passed the halfway mark and the total tonnages could be slightly better than expected initially after severe frosts caused widespread damage.

The Grains Industry Association of WA is expected to revise its forecast up about 500,000 tonnes on its November estimate to at least 15.5 million tonnes in the December Crop Report to be issued later this week.

GIWA Crop Report author Alan Meldrum said yields in non-frost-affected crops, particularly canola, had been better than expected.

Although some farmers had suffered devastating losses from the frosts, in many cases their canola crops had proven to be more resilient than anticipated initially.

He said for many farmers barley yields were not as badly affected as initially thought; however, poor quality was a big issue resulting from the frosts. Where frost had not affected barley, quality was generally good.

Tamara and Neil Carter, with Neil's father Rod and baby Aiden, were last week harvesting barley on the Meckering farm.
Camera IconTamara and Neil Carter, with Neil's father Rod and baby Aiden, were last week harvesting barley on the Meckering farm.

Mr Meldrum said it was the wheat harvest — which was just starting in many parts of the State — that would feel the biggest impact from the freezing temperatures in the growing season.

He said in both frost-affected and non-frost-affected areas, protein in wheat was shaping up to be low due to the generous seasonal rainfall and consequent high-yield potential.

The CBH forecast meanwhile remains at 13-14 million tonnes.

CBH is organising an appeal for farmers who suffered extensive crop damage. It is asking the better-off farmers to donate grain that could be turned into cash and seed for those most affected.

Around Corrigin — one of the hardest hit areas from the frosts — farmers were beginning their wheat harvest programs, and still assessing the true impact of frosts, according to Corrigin Farm Improvement Group president and local farmer Simon Wallwork.

“Everyone is in such a different situation. It varies so much from farm to farm,” he said.

“People are just starting their wheat now and there’s some severe damage there — of course we won’t know more until further along in the harvest programs,” he said.

On the upside, the canola yields and oil content, along with resilience to frosts, had pleasantly surprised many growers in the area.

Mr Wallwork said barley had been quite a mixed bag. Some farmers had encountered less damage than anticipated. Others were more severely hit, resulting in a fair amount of lightweight barley. Lightweight barley means dropping out of Feed 3, which is only $80 a tonne at present.

“The guys are trying every-thing, even blending with neighbours, to get a bit of weight into their barley,” Mr Wallwork said.

Among farmers to be severely affected by frosts are Grant and Lindsay Tuckwell of Kondinin. In an average year the Tuckwells harvest about 4000 tonnes of wheat.

This year they are expecting a little over 1500 tonnes. Their barley has also been affected.

“It would have to rate as one of the worst, if not the worst year for us,” Mrs Tuckwell said.

For the Carter family of Meckering, harvest had gotten off to a brilliant start. But they expect as they move onto their main wheat program, the picture will not be as rosy due to frost damage.

Neil Carter who farms the mixed sheep and cropping enterprise with wife Tamara and parents Rod and Anne, said they were now more than halfway through harvesting their 2150ha crop, including 150ha of oats for hay.

After generous, 381.5mm seasonal rainfall, their 370ha canola harvest exceeded expectations.

“We have been very happy with the canola — there’s been very little frost damage. The average yield has been 1.8 tonnes/ha, which we’ve never achieved before. Oil content has averaged 48.5 per cent,” said Mr Carter who returned to the family farm in 2002.

The 600ha Scope barley harvest was also pleasing for the family. Although there was some frost damage, average yields were around 2.9 tonne/ha and around 70 per cent achieved malt grade. The 290ha Barlock lupins harvest was due to start last Monday and the Carters expected they would move on to harvesting the remaining 620ha of their Magenta and Supreme wheat crop by the weekend.

“We’ve already harvested around 80ha of our wheat and there was a fair bit of frost damage; we can also see there’s a fair bit of damage in the remaining wheat so we do not have great expectations,” Mr Carter said.

The Meckering farmer said he was thankful that this year the family planted less wheat than they usually do, so a smaller proportion was vulnerable to frost.

CBH reported total receivals had reached 9.65 million tonnes by last Friday — meaning more than half its estimated 13-14 million tonne crop for 2016 was now in the bins.

Geraldton and Esperance were expected to start winding down during this week and next.

In the Geraldton zone, receivals were sitting about 2.5 million tonnes (76 per cent complete) as of last Friday. Esperance zone was 81 per cent complete with 1.7 million tonnes received.

Kwinana zone collected 4 million tonnes to reach half its expected total receivals. The Albany Port Zone was just 37 per cent complete, with 1.2 million tonnes.

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