Har­vest kicks off in south

Countryman - - FRONT PAGE - Dorothy Hen­der­son and Jenne Bram­mer

In the far south-east of Western Aus­tralia, the head­ers have rolled out, with swathing un­der way and the first loads of canola headed for the bins, sig­nalling one of the ear­li­est starts to har­vest.

The Jones fam­ily at Sped­din­gup, about 55km north-east of Esper­ance, is ex­pected to be the first to de­liver pro­duce to the port’s re­ceival fa­cil­i­ties.

The fam­ily’s farm has en­joyed a sea­son of timely rains, with pe­ri­ods of ex­cess bal­anced nicely by dry spells that saved crops from dam­age and prompted growth.

The end re­sult is canola now ready for de­liv­ery, and Kim Jones said both the yield and qual­ity were pleas­ing.

He said the Bonito canola now swathed, har­vested and in stor­age was sown at a rate of about 4kg/ha at the end of March, and looked like yield­ing over 1t/ha.

“We are ex­pect­ing the oil qual­ity to be good, with sam­ples at 47 per cent,” he said.

Mr Jones said the area in which the fam­ily farm was lo­cated did not ex­pe­ri­ence the dry au­tumn that other ar­eas of the State en­dured; in fact the op­po­site was the case.

“It was re­ally too wet here; we got bogged at least 10 times dur­ing seed­ing,” he said.

At the end of March, 40mm of rain topped up the al­ready wet ground, which had been soaked by 250mm in Fe­bru­ary.

“It dried out enough in April and May, and then the day af­ter we fin­ished our pro­gram, an­other 55mm of rain fell.

“We ac­tu­ally had to re-seed some ar­eas af­ter that rain,” he said.

The Jones fam­ily have a pro­gram which in­cludes 1100ha of canola and 1100ha of wheat, with Tro­jan, Scep­tre and Mace the va­ri­eties planted this sea­son.

“We also have 200ha of lentils in,” Mr Jones said.

The red lentils were des­tined for ex­port and were a crop that was gain­ing favour in the area.

Mr Jones said his father Alan had de­vel­oped the farm that was now home to his fam­ily and that it had al­ways been a crop­ping prop­erty. “It was bought as a bush block, cleared and has only ever had a bound­ary fence: no an­i­mals,” he said.

Mr Jones said the swathing op­er­a­tion started a fort­night ago, on a lim­ited, stop-start ba­sis be­cause the grain was not all ready at once; some had been left stand­ing.

He said it was not so sur­pris­ing to hear head­ers at this time of the year, not any more. “It is now pretty nor­mal for har­vest to start in Oc­to­ber,” he said.

“I think it is be­cause we are seed­ing ear­lier, try­ing to cap­ture the rain­fall that in­creased the crop yields.”

This strat­egy also worked to re­duce the frost risk.

For many grain­grow­ers, this year’s har­vest marks the end of a sea­son of mixed for­tunes.

The north­ern Wheat­belt around Ger­ald­ton, which is usu­ally gear­ing up to har­vest around this time of year, is fac­ing de­lays be­cause a lack of rain at the start of the grow­ing sea­son has meant that the crop es­tab­lish­ment was well be­hind sched­ule.

Agrar­ian con­sul­tant Craig Topham said he did not ex­pect the north­ern har­vest to pick up un­til late Oc­to­ber. Some canola had al­ready been des­ic­cated or swathed, ahead of har­vest­ing.

He said there had been a big turn­around in for­tunes since July when some north­ern Wheat­belt farm­ers ex­pected they would not have any crop to har­vest be­cause of ex­treme dry con­di­tions.

“Farm­ers won’t be get­ting huge yields by any means, but they are now in a far bet­ter po­si­tion than they were mid-year when it looked like they would not be get­ting their head­ers out of the shed,” he said.

“They may av­er­age 300-400kg/ha — cer­tainly not great, but at least these farm­ers will now get their seed back and have some­thing to de­liver.

“The fin­ish to the sea­son has been very kind. It’s been cool and crops re­ally ben­e­fited from be­tween 20-45mm that fell across the re­gion in late Septem­ber — that’s had a hugely pos­i­tive ef­fect,” he said.

The adage “when it rains it pours” is ring­ing true at the Davy fam­ily’s Well­stead farm af­ter more than 180mm of rain­fall fell in just two weeks.

Rob and Carolyn planned to shear the bulk of their 14,000 sheep last week but plans ground to a halt when the rain put much of the farm un­der­wa­ter.

Most of the cou­ple’s 5500ha of farm­land is south-west of Well­stead and has be­come sod­den, with wheat and canola crops heav­ily wa­ter­logged.

In­stead of send­ing wool to mar­ket late last week, Mr Davy spent hours guid­ing a flock of 2000 ewes out of a flooded pad­dock onto higher ground.

“I took them on a de­tour route through a few dif­fer­ent pad­docks and streams of wa­ter,” he said.

“The main road we would usu­ally use was about a me­tre un­der wa­ter and we needed them closer to the shed for shear­ing.

“We were a week into shear­ing and had done 3000 sheep but then the weather came.”

Well­stead has recorded one of the State’s high­est rain­fall to­tals for the year to date (746mm), just a shower away from its 2016 rain­fall to­tal of 778mm.

Nearby ar­eas Many­peaks (681mm), Gaird­ner (431mm), South Stir­ling (499mm) and Bre­mer Bay (483mm) have all recorded less.

It’s a stark con­trast to the north­ern grain belt where some farm­ers have started to spray out crops af­ter low grow­ing-sea­son rain.

Up to 8km of the Davy prop­erty’s ar­te­rial dirt roads have flooded and many that have dried out now fea­ture cav­ernous holes and hag­gard edges.

Mr Davy said the full ex­tent of crop dam­age was not yet known but yields could be halved by the wa­ter dam­age.

Af­ter bog­ging the farm’s mo­tor­bike last week, Mr Davy said it made sense to “wait it out” rather than risk driv­ing a boom spray on pad­docks just yet.

“Our crops have just strug­gled all year, the sheep have strug­gled from just be­ing too wet,” he said.

“The feed just starts to get go­ing and then it just drowns.

“Nor­mally we fin­ish har­vest well be­fore Christ­mas but I would be in­cred­i­bly sur­prised if we fin­ished be­fore Christ­mas this year.”

The cou­ple have ten­ta­tive plans to start swathing canola in two weeks but Mr Davy said it de­pended on whether the weather held off.

“It’s not so much the dam­age on the farm — we can’t get through or onto pad­docks,” Mr Davy said.

“We are hop­ing that in the month be­fore har­vest we will be able to re­pair the roads so we can get the header through the farm.

“But we might only have to worry about half as much grain this year.”

The main road into Well­stead, South Coast High­way, was still flooded and closed to the west of the town this week.

Pic­ture: Dorothy Hen­der­son

Paige, 6, Toby, 11, and Tess Jones, 8, en­joy the feel of canola har­vested on their fam­ily's farm at Sped­din­gup while their par­ents Kim and Ab­bie are de­lighted with the start to the 2017 har­vest.

Photo avail­able at west­pix.com.au Pic­ture: Cally Dupe

Rob Davy in a flooded pad­dock at Well­stead.

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