Dry winter has farmers hoping spring doesn’t go against grain
Nathan Wegener knows he is lucky to be standing waist-high in wheat fields on his family farm at Callington, 50km east of Adelaide, while others are hurting from a dry start to the season.
The broadacre farmer said conditions were “just right” to plant his crops in April when it was too wet for his peers in the state’s southeast and too dry for those in the premium western regions of the Eyre and Yorke peninsulas.
A mild spring will give him hope this crop will come close to last year’s 50-year record.
“Last year was the best year for us that we’ve ever had ... but prices are looking better than last year,’’ Mr Wegener said. “A hot finish will be our biggest concern. We’ll do well as long as we get a mild finish with a little bit of rain.”
Spring rain may be the saviour for farmers across the nation’s major grain-growing regions after a dry winter that sapped their confidence to a four-year low.
The Australian Crop Report, released last week, shows the nation’s winter crop will fall 39 per cent to 36.3 million tonnes, from last season’s “exceptionally high yields”, with South Australia expected to fare worse than the national average, down 43 per cent to 6.4 million tonnes, down from last season’s 11 million tonnes. The report, published by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Scien- ces, forecasts wheat production to fall 38 per cent to 21.6 million tonnes, barley down 40 per cent to eight million tonnes and canola 33 per cent lower at 2.8 million tonnes across the southern states.
Grains Producers SA chief executive Darren Arney said the dry start to winter meant 300,000 fewer hectares of grain planted across the state, as farmers either didn’t take the risk of planting seed or lost their crop before rain picked up in July. But all was not lost, with rain over the next two months likely to boost yields considerably.
Mr Arney said growers in the state’s southeast had the opposite problem of too much rain putting their crops at risk of disease.
Harvests on Eyre and Yorke peninsulas would be up to six weeks later than usual, he said.
“It’s been an amazing turnaround to where we were two months ago but it’s still too wet in some spots and we still need to see rainfall in October in Eyre and Yorke peninsulas,’’ he said.
South Australia last year produced 11 million tonnes of grain, which was near record highs; reaping almost $3 billion for farmers. It was too early to forecast, but production this season was likely to be closer to the average of 7.5 million tonnes.
Eyre Peninsula Integrated Commodities grain broker Steve Whillas said some farmers on the peninsula had withstood a dry June and were now hoping for a cool spring, while others had lost their crops. “The last month has been favourable to the growers and there’s been some rain in the last week which has given growers a little bit more confidence,” he said.
Broadacre farmer Nathan Wegener, with his son Brett among their wheat crop at Callington, 50km east of Adelaide, is hoping for a mild spring as they look to match last year’s record harvest