Hit and miss
Awestern Victorian grains harvest is revealing a dramatic contrast in farming fortunes based on the variability of weather incidents, geography, crop diversity and simple timing.
While some farmers are experiencing bumper results, especially in parts of the southern Mallee, others in the Western District hit hard by a one-in-50-year frost and in some circumstances follow-up hail, are predicting devastating losses across most crops.
In much of the Wimmera, farmers are measuring harvest success on a paddock-by-paddock scenario, with some crops such as canola returning outstanding results and barley presenting well, while much of the regional pulse crop has been ruined by frost.
The dramatic contrast so far emerging from the harvest, almost finished in the Mallee, underway in the Wimmera and edging towards a start south of the Great Divide, has prompted Member for Lowan Emma Kealy to stress a need for communities to rally in support of each other.
Ms Kealy, the Victorian Coalition’s mental-health representative, said predictions were that it would be a season of ‘haves and have-nots’ as growers experienced everything from bumper results to extensive losses.
She said while some farmers might have outstanding harvests, their near neighbours might not be so lucky.
“We’re looking at what might be a significant contrast with the potential of results based on a paddock-to-paddock and crop-to-crop assessment,” she said.
“That means while one farmer might have reason to celebrate, a next-door neighbour might be devastated – such is the nature of circumstances this harvest.
“What’s important is that rural communities again come together in resilient solidarity and tap into their reputable self-support mechanisms.
“The message, in other words, is that everyone makes sure they look out for each other.”
Ms Kealy said Wimmera-mallee farmers remained some of the best in the world, but the thing they could not manipulate was the weather.
“It’s important for farmers to know that the region is well aware of what they achieve and what they contribute and we’ll always stand with them,” she said.
Victorian Farmers Federation Grains Group president Brett Hosking said the expectation was for Victoria to end up with an ‘average’ grain harvest.
“It is very hard to judge at the moment. I would expect the pulse damage in the Wimmera to drag things back,” he said.
“The cereals have copped it from frost and hail in parts of the Western District, but they seemed to have survived okay in other areas.”
The harvest story so far varies considerably depending on region.
Commercial grain company Shannon Brothers, operating receiving and packing sites at Beulah and Horsham, reported solid results from the southern Mallee harvest.
The firm’s Clayton Shannon said results at the Beulah site had been ‘going very well’ with grain quality holding firm.
“Wheat has been going strongly with a lot of high protein,” he said.
“There have been some terrific yields and lentils have been fantastic – this appears to be in stark contrast to early results in Horsham, which has been slow to start up.”
Murtoa farmer Andy Delahunty said he had been delighted with his canola harvest, which was ‘up there with the best’ but added that his lentils crop was relatively poor.
“Everything for us is quite good except the lentils, and we’re a while off harvesting the wheat,” he said.
South of Ararat, circumstances appear considerably different, with much of the frost damage involving cereal crops such as wheat.
But again the harvest appears likely to produce hit-and-miss results.
Gorst Rural director and agronomist Cam Conboy said the early November frost had affected a broad area stretching from south of Ararat, Willaura, Wickliffe and Lake Bolac to Buangor and Skipton.
“Anywhere north-east of Lake Bolac seems to be the worst hit,” he said.
“To the untrained eye the wheat crops look brilliant – that’s until you open the heads.
“In some ways it’s worse than a bushfire. At least with a bushfire you know what has been hit.
“With this type of frost damage you need to have a good look.
“There have been some wipeouts and while everyone wants to know a magical number when it comes to tonnes and dollars the truth is we just don’t know yet.”
Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford and Opposition leader Matthew Guy have visited Western District grain-growing regions to gain insight into the scope of crop damage.
Ms Pulford joined growers for a fact-finding mission at Langi Logan south of Ararat and Member for Ripon Louise Staley joined Mr Guy on a similar tour at Trawalla.
Ms Staley said it was important farmers felt they had support.
“This has caught many by surprise and millions of dollars worth of crops have been wiped out,” she said.
Storms featuring areas of heavy rain and hail at the weekend also added to the anxiety of growers across the region.
LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING: Agriculture minister Jaala Pulford inspects a frost-affected wheat crop at Langi Logan south of Ararat with farmers Bruce Mckay and Andy Laidlaw.
KEEPING WATCH: Lottie Beddison, 10 months, oversees harvest from the truck at her family’s property at Kalkee. Has harvest started at your place? Share your photos with us by emailing [email protected]eradio.com.au or via The Weekly Advertiser Facebook page.