The yield of dreams rolls on

Rueben HaleCountryman

When it’s too wet even out Hyden way, you know the season is shaping up to be one of the best ever.

But for East Hyden grower Craig Mayfield, even though it’s his wettest on record, he says he won’t be spending any money until the crop is in the bin this year.

Mr Mayfield, who planted barley, wheat, canola and lupins on his 6000ha property, said after enduring a six-week battle seeding against the boggy paddocks, he’s still not out of the woods.

Overall, the 2016 WA season continues to enjoy a dream start.

Crops have been sown into moist soils since early April, regular rainfall has replenished soil moisture and mild to warm temperatures early on provided optimum growing conditions, fuelling expectations of a bumper harvest.

It has been an interesting year for Mr Mayfield, who says the season is looking reasonable despite nitrogen leakage from record rains since December.

But just months out from harvesting his early-sown crops, he remains cautious of frost damage.

“We’ve had some days recently where the morning temperatures have dropped below zero degrees,” he said.

“This year, with the crops being sown so early and likely to be out in head in July, frost could be a big factor.

“Last year, we had plenty of frost and the crops in the valleys were virtually wiped out, but on the hills we were getting 4t/ha barley crops instead of 2t/ha and that was the result of going early compared to seeding at a more traditional time.” Mr Mayfield said it had paid dividends to plant early because of the area’s uniform climate, but this year the protracted seeding program would mean a more staggered harvest.

“We started sowing canola in the first week of April, followed by lupins, barley and then finished with wheat on May 19, compared to May 9 last year.” he said.

“It normally takes us a month to put the crop in, but with getting more than 330mm of rain between December and March, we had many delays in our seeding program while having to wait for paddocks to dry out.” Mr Mayfield said early-sown crops had been key to higher yields.

“When we look back on our records during the drought years, we’ve still been able to achieve reasonably good crops in those conditions because we planted early,” he said.

“In 2012, we had 120mm of rainfall for the season and we still managed to grow a 2.4t/ha tonne barley crop. The barley crops sown later that year yielded significantly lower than that and struggled.

“Even last year, we only received 160mm for the growing season, which is not a lot in comparative terms to wet years like this year, but we still managed to have barley crops yielding close to 4t/ha tonnes, with an average of 3.2t/ha.

“Given the choice, I would always choose a wet summer and an average winter.

“I can have the boom-spray rolling in the dryer months, but having the ability to pick a date to sow your crop is worth a great deal.

“It gives us the benefit of being able to spray the weeds with a double-knock before sowing and getting crops established early adds to competition against weeds.

“And if you can get your crop in early, like we were able to prove last year, you avoid exposing your crop to heat stress. Last year, we only received 4mm of rain in the first week of September, so if we did get good rains in September some of those crops would have gone close to 4.5t/ha.”

Mr Mayfield said the market outlook was not great even if the stars lined up for this year’s crop.

“It could be one of those years where there is plenty of grain around but farmers aren’t going to get paid much for it,” he said.

“You hope the market delivers good prices to coincide with a good season but this year we just might not get there.”

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