Weather gods smile on harvest at Boyup Brook

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Boyup Brook farmers Ben and Esther Creek with their son Theo, 2, on the farm.
Camera IconBoyup Brook farmers Ben and Esther Creek with their son Theo, 2, on the farm. Credit: Countryman

Sunny skies and hot days have set the scene for the start of what is shaping up to be a bumper harvest at the Creek family’s farm, just south of Boyup Brook.

Ben and Esther Creek started their sixth harvest together on November 19, much to the delight of their two-year-old son Theo, who has been riding shotgun in the header most days.

Boyup Brook’s ideal harvesting conditions took a quick turn last Thursday when a storm dumped 8mm on the property, causing Mr Creek and the farm’s three workmen to pull up stumps for a few days while dark clouds drizzled on their half-harvested barley crop.

Harvesting barley at Boyup Brook farmer Ben Creek's property.
Camera IconHarvesting barley at Boyup Brook farmer Ben Creek's property. Credit: Countryman

They were back on the beat this week, with the mercury set to peak at about 30C today and temperatures reaching 32C mid next week after dipping to 6C overnight last weekend.

Mr Creek said he was “rapt” with the results of their 600ha cropping program so far, with their dessicated barley producing record yields.

“We were concerned early in the season because we had a later break, but the rain came all of a sudden in late mid-May,” he said.

“It has been a sensational year — pastures have been fantastic and the crops are some of the best we have seen.”

Mr Creek has been on the header this harvest, while the family’s longstanding farmhand Mike Jones has been busy trucking hay after the Creeks finished cutting a few weeks ago.

Making his debut on the farm is Mr Creek’s 19-year-old nephew Tom, who is in charge of the chaser bin.

Casual farmhand Richard Barber has been busy carting grain to the local bin, while Mr Creek’s father Richard is helping with the stock work during the busy harvest period, and his mother Caroline and wife Esther are helping and supporting the boys.

Boyup Brook chaser bin driver Tom Creek has been helping his uncle Tom Creek at harvest.
Camera IconBoyup Brook chaser bin driver Tom Creek has been helping his uncle Tom Creek at harvest. Credit: Countryman
Richard Barber has been driving the truck at the Creek family's Boyup Brook farm for the 2020-21 harvest.
Camera IconRichard Barber has been driving the truck at the Creek family's Boyup Brook farm for the 2020-21 harvest. Credit: Countryman

The Creeks have finished harvesting most of their canola — some paddocks are a still a little bit green — and this week started on barley.

They are yet to harvest their oats and lupins.

They also run about 6000 sheep between their property and Mr Creek’s parents’ property — mostly Merinos with some Dohne Merino composites.

Mr Creek had nearly finished seeding when China announced it would put hefty tariffs on WA barley in May. He quickly swapped one of his barley paddocks to canola in response.

After crunching the numbers, he figured it would be better to seed a late-season canola than risk a projected, but yet to be realised, price plummet for barley.

As well as running the farm, Mr Creek also contract-harvests for a nearby farming family, and works as a consultant at AGRIvise Agronomy —with clients from Boyup to Manjimup.

Aside from last week’s showers, most of this year’s rain has come at the right time for the Creeks, with 500mm recorded so far.

After three drier-than-average seasons, the soil was thirsty around Boyup Brook.

Harvesting barley at Boyup Brook farmer Ben Creek's property.
Camera IconHarvesting barley at Boyup Brook farmer Ben Creek's property. Credit: Countryman

Mr Creek said he did not realise how much moisture was below the soil until he found himself bogged three times, much to the amusement of his mates and AGRIvise Agronomy colleagues.

After a 20mm break in mid-May, the Creeks were fortunate to record nearly 102mm that month.

The May total was followed by 90mm in June, 80mm in July, 30mm in August and 84mm in September.

“Three years of dry conditions have really dried the soil profile up. After this we will have great soil moisture for next year’s crops,” Mr Creek said.

The Creeks seeded a blend of 25kg/ha of Bell Pasture Seeds’ eastern mix with about 50kg/ha of their own oats on April 20, and let it grow for six weeks.

To give those resown and established pastures a break, they tried confinement feeding with grain, hay and straw for the first time this year — which Mr Creek said “worked a treat”.

They structured the confinement feeding into three lots: 3ha with 1000 sheep, 2ha with 700 sheep, and 8ha with 900 lambs during weaning.

The technique giving the Creeks a great way to supplement ewes and fatten lambs and cash in on the “sensational” meat prices.

Harvest at Boyup Brook farmer Ben Creek's farm.
Camera IconHarvest at Boyup Brook farmer Ben Creek's farm. Credit: Countryman

The talk of summer rain inspired the family to try Super Sweet Sudan as a summer crop, seeding about 25ha of an ex-bluegum block on October 20.

In terms of other changes on the farm, the Creeks “played the nitrogen strategy” this year, pushing their rates higher in some of their top-performing paddocks.

Mr Creek is the first to admit he made “a bit of a mistake” sowing lupins too deep, chasing moisture early, sowing at 50mm rather than his usual 20mm.

“They took a while to come up and it was just lucky we ended up with decent rainfall,” he said.

“Because we have forest gravels, some of it is non-wetting, which hit us pretty hard on the lupins.

“My grandfather used to say it was always better to sow too shallow than too deep. As far as lupins, oats and canola go, that is probably good to remember.”

With harvest still in its early days, the Creeks expect to wrap up in early January.

Harvest at Boyup Brook farmer Ben Creek's farm.
Camera IconHarvest at Boyup Brook farmer Ben Creek's farm. Credit: Countryman
Harvest has cranked up across WA as skies clear and the weather heats up.
Camera IconHarvest has cranked up across WA as skies clear and the weather heats up. Credit: Cally Dupe

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