Oil and hope don’t mix

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - JACK MOR­PHET

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.

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