Harvest kicks off in south
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.
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.
Rob Davy in a flooded paddock at Wellstead.