HARVEST is in motion for cropping farmers across the Wimmera.
Following a year of tough conditions, including frost outbreaks and lack of rainfall, farmers are feeling cautiously optimistic about the season’s returns.
Grain receivals at Grain Corp’s Victorian* sites stand at 499,400 tonnes as of December 3. This is higher than the New South Wales total of 416,800 tonnes, and the Queensland total of 99,800 tonnes.
Horsham district farmer Peter Moore said he grew wheat, barley and lentils at his property.
“Anything that we had on fallow is okay, but everything else is pretty average. Anyone who has crops on fallow are good, but others really struggled. We’ve only just finished the barley, we’ve still got a lot of lentils to go, and we haven’t started the wheat yet,” he said.
Mr Moore said he expected a much lower yield than last year.
“Prices are good, so that counteracts some of that. They are double what they were a few year’s ago, so that goes a long way to helping the bottom line. But yields are definitely down for everyone in the region,” he said.
Vectis farmer Vaughn Maroske started harvest at his 800 hectare property two weeks ago and is about 40 per cent completed. Mr Maroske said he planted canola, wheat, barley and fava beans.
“The canola we cut for hay, which was probably a bad decision in hindsight because it rained just after we cut it,” he said.
“There were a lot of people who did the same thing. It probably would have been a better decision not to cut it, but you can’t turn back the clock. We do get return at least and will sell it to other farmers as feed – so it’s good to have that marketing opportunity.”
He said the barley was looking the best out of the remainder of the crops.
“We supply half to dairy farmers directly, and the rest is through the local grains system,” he said.
“The yields are definitely better than expected or anticipated for this sort of rainfall. The prices are excellent, so the little bit we’re getting is very worthwhile.
“Next season we will pretty much stick to the main program. We run 500 cross-bred ewes and the lambs are looking good – we’ll sell them on. Feed will be a bit scarce. The stubble will be good value, but they won’t last long.”
Grain Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann, of Rupanyup, said conditions at his property were better than originally expected.
“Definitely the quality of the grain has been pretty good. The barley is much better in terms of yield than we originally thought and quality has also been really good,” he said.
“The lentils have been pretty good – we did have a few frosted paddocks. We haven’t harvested any wheat yet. The canola that we didn’t cut for hay has yielded pretty well and the oil was good. All in all, it’s not to bad.
“Most of the decisions we made have worked out okay at this stage. We had one canola paddock that we left for harvest on the basis that we thought it would go okay, and it did.
“Talking to most people around, it’s pretty much the same. Generally, the yield of pulses is very low which was expected. There was a fair bit of frost in certain areas as well in the lentils.”
Mr Weidemann said receivals would be down across the Wimmera.
“A lot of grain is staying on farms, so it would be hard to judge just how much grain actually is around. People are selling into the domestic markets. Wheat production is well down from what people expected, but the quality is still pretty good,” he said.
“Judging by how much the market is going to need feed for livestock, and how much we will need to import, if we can’t meet that demand then that will be one issues to deal with next year.”
He said grains prices were “exceptionally good” at the moment.
“We’re now looking ahead to February when the tariffs will most likely be put in place,” he said.
“There is still some business being done in China because we know China wants the grain, but there are other market opportunities available for Australian barley as well. With the dry conditions, there is a strong demand in Victoria for grain.”
Mr Weidemann expected to have his harvest completed by the end of the weekend, except for chickpeas.
Shannon Bros Horsham site manager Clayton Shannon said business had been slow.
“It has been slow, mostly due to weather, but the quality of everything looks terrific so far. Beans are going okay, then probably 95 per cent of the barley is going malt. We do export packing, and numbers have been down considerably,” he said.
Mr Shannon said there was “no doubt” that receival numbers would be low.
“But a lot of growers are actually surprised by how much their crops are yielding. Then obviously prices are helping and making things worthwhile,” he said.
“The majority of them are very happy considering how the seaosn has been. We have people coming from the north and south-west with beans especially because we’re one of the few receival sites for beans. As far as cereals go, they mainly come from local growers.”
Birchip Cropping Group chief executive Chris Souness said farmers in his region had been pleasantly surprised with results.
“Their expectations were so low going into harvest, so they have been pleased. Combined with the stronger prices and the ability to move a bit of hay means that they have made the best out of a bad season,” he said.
“When people look back at their financial returns, they will see that they have paid back their way for the year – back in September or October, they might not have expected that.
“Going into 2019, they are aware that the yield potential is a lot lower than normal because it has been such a dry year.
“The crops have performed better than expected, so the sub-soil moisture has been efficiently used by the plants. That reflects well on the farmers’ methodologies, but it does increase the risks of next year.
“So there is some trepidation for next year, but they are going into it in a far better situation than they thought they would be two or three months ago.”
Horsham Auto Air services air-conditioning and brakes for agriculture machinery, including headers, tractors and on-farm trucks. Mechanic Gary Smith said harvest season was a busy time of year for the business.
“The business changes this time of year – you go from a more general focus to a higher agriculture focus this time of year because of harvest,” he said.
“We travel to farms around the region and wherever our client base takes us. The most far we’ve been is Edenhope and Watchem; last week I was in Rainbow. Years ago we went as far as Colac.
“We try to fill a gap and most of our client base has older types of machinery.”
*Grain Crop was unable to provide localised statistics for the Wimmera region.