Turnaround brings joy to Avon producers

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

With a wry smile, Beverley farmer Alan Sattler describes this season as “better than last year”.

It’s an underestimation — after a near perfect July, growers in the Avon Valley are hoping for what just might be a bumper year, if everything goes according to plan.

About 125mm for July has turned Alan and wife Jo’s season around and after three disappointing seasons in a row, they say it was about time.

“Like most farmers around the State this year, there was a lot of hope riding on this season and it seems to be working so far, ” Alan said.

He’s not ready to hang his hat on the season yet, but admits things are looking good. “Once the frost risk has gone, then we’ll start thinking about it being a good season, ” he said.

“But the crops now are higher than where the canola was when we harvested it last year.

“I think there’s meant to be fronts coming through all August and, hopefully, we’ll get a nice top up through September and everything will go the way it’s meant to.”

A lot of their wheat is in the boot stage, with the Magenta already starting to come into head.

The couple has already locked in a third of their wheat program and say yields could be anywhere from 2.5 to 3 tonnes — if there are no hitches between now and harvest.

Alan and Jo say the mood across the whole region is generally upbeat, as growers watch precious winter rainfall and warm weather turn the season around.

At Brookton, mixed farmer Brett Whittington, who farms with his wife Sue, said he had never seen a season undertake such a dramatic transformation.

“We’ve had the crops looking as good or better before, but not from where we started (this season), ” he said. “This season is fantastic, (but) five weeks ago I would have said it was disastrous.”

In those five weeks the third generation farmer has had over 100mm, warm days and only one frost.

Walking through a paddock of lush Bartolo bladder clover, Brett said the pasture in this paddock was almost non-existent at the end of June.

“It was absolutely hammered, we had a lot of stock on it and it was taken back until just about dust, ” he said. “I expected to be feeding sheep still into August and now I’m struggling to keep grazing pressure on paddocks.”

After tripling their cropping program this season, the near-perfect conditions have also allowed the Whittington’s crops to surge ahead after the family finished seeding around June 14.

“We started in May, but we pretty much put the whole program in on 25mm of rain, ” Brett said.

“I left the canola to the absolute death knock because it didn’t look like I was going to be planting any because of the lateness.”

Now, with healthy crops and huge pasture growth, Brett said farming is fun again.

But with rain comes a new suite of challenges and York-based agronomist David Stead said farmers needed to be vigilant on the pest and diseases front.

He said yellow spot and septoria in wheat and powdery mildew and net blotch in barley were starting to be seen in the region.

However, in the main, the whole Avon Valley region was looking magnificent.

“It’s set up to be a handy year, provided frost keeps out of it for the next five weeks or so, ” Mr Stead said.

“Four out of the last seven years were devastating in the Avon Valley for frosts.”

Mr Stead said “hand to mouth rainfalls” until July meant growers had been nervous, but now a region stretching from Cadoux to Hyden and Pingelly was looking at potentially growing a five to 10-year average yield. But he said there were still a few pockets that had missed out.

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