Oil and hope don’t mix
FIELDS of canola which normally yield the lucrative seeds that become cooking oil and margarine are instead being cut to make hay as they are withered by a cruel double blow of drought and frosts.
Drought is now encroaching areas spared the worst of the “big dry” and farmers from Deniliquin to Dubbo despair at canola crops that have simply stopped growing before they produced enough seeds.
After the driest January to August since 1965, the state’s canola harvest is forecast to have halved from 618,000 tonnes last year to 300,000 tonnes this year, according to the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
Farmer Andrew Dumaresq’s 500ha canola crop on his farm 10km east of Wagga has avoided the worst of the frosts and will be harvested for seeds if there’s another 20mm of rain within the next 10 days.
“It’s pure luck that we’ve had a couple of showers and haven’t been as badly frosted as the rest of the region, so we’re confident we’ll be able to take the canola through to harvest,” Mr Dumaresq said.
“If it doesn’t rain in the next fortnight we’ll watch it shrivel in front of our eyes and we’ll have to cut the canola for hay.”
While parts of the state’s west are experiencing the driest 18 months since records began in 1900, farmers had been referring to the Riverina in the southwest as “Atlantis” because it was the most drought-resistant region — until now.
Mr Dumaresq, a fourth-generation farmer, likened the current conditions to 2002 and 2006 when the Millennial Drought was at its worst.
“A couple of months ago we had to drive a couple of hours to see the drought but the big dry is encroaching all the time,” he said.
Even if Mr Dumaresq’s crop is harvested for seed, the expected yield has plummeted from three tonnes per hectare in April to as little as half a tonne per hectare now.
On the other side of Wagga at Lockhart, farmer Neil Schirmer’s canola crop was doomed on August 29 when the mercury dropped to minus-six degrees for 12 hours and brought frosts.
“I finished cutting the canola for hay on Thursday,” Mr Schirmer said. “I’ll only just cover my costs.” Contract harvester Rod Gribble called the canola harvest a “nonevent” and worries wheat and barley crops will also fail by harvest in March.
Andrew Dumaresq looks over his canola crop on his property near Wagga. Picture: Brad Newman
Mr Dumaresq holds canola seeds.