Rain takes 'cream' off crops but yields remain 'phenomenal'

Burren Junction's Powell Farms among western growers harvesting | Photos

Grains
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Recent NSW rain dampens hopes of high grain quality but yields remain strong.

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LATE spring rain has set harvest operations back for many producers across western NSW, but it has failed to derail yields.

Growers across areas such as Walgett, Lightning Ridge and Burren Junction are busy harvesting wheat crops, which in some places are averaging five or six tonnes per hectare.

However, recent storms and widespread rain have caused the quality of the crops to be downgraded significantly, in some cases from the highest end of the grading scale to the lowest.

Despite the setback, growers such as Christian Powell, Powell Farms, Burren Junction are enjoying the higher than average cereal crop yields.

"This year we planted Lancer and Mustang varieties of wheat so far the yields are fantastic and it is all still standing up which is nice," Mr Powell said.

"We had a good moisture profile going into planting as well as a pretty warm start to spring before it became pretty wet and took a bit of the cream off the crop, but despite that, the yields have been phenomenal.

"The last weather system we had come through here was very patchy and some people didn't get too much, while some people really got under it and to be honest, we got about 40-50mm out of the last rain event before that one.

"However, this season is shaping up to be better than last year, which was very good, and we are just grateful for two good years back to back."

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It was a similar story for Cumborah producer Nick Deshon, Llanillo, whose 2500 hectares of wheat and 700 hectares of barley were downgraded due to the recent weather.

"At the moment, we are getting ready to put most of what we have harvested into silage and silos because feed is king and we know another dry year is never too far away up here," Mr Deshon said.

"However, even if you are taking it into the receival, the prices at the moment are really strong, so you are still getting your value there.

"Especially given the yields we are getting at the moment, I really don't think too many people will be complaining."

However, while most are happy with the yields, the threat of more incoming rainfall has growers across the district working around the clock to complete as much of the harvest as possible. The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting rain systems tracking from west to east could bring patchy but significant rainfall to some areas during the coming weeks.

Walgett grower Ed Colless is "going flat chat" to get his cereal crops off, especially after recent rain.

"That bit of rain we've had over the past few weekends has slowed us down a bit, so we are really getting into it now," Mr Colless said.

"They are predicting a bit more rain in the near future, so we are really ripping in to get as much off as we can before it comes."

As well as battling the weather, Mr Powell said labour shortages and delays on equipment have also been a struggle as his family-run operation looks to harvest wheat, chickpeas and faba beans this season.

"Electronic items for example have been really hard to get and I think people are really starting to feel the impacts now," he said.

"We are also down a header too due to one of our contractors having to go back home, so I know that has been a challenge for many people as well.

"Fortunately, there hasn't been too many issues for contractors crossing the Victorian border, so we have been able to source a few guys from down there as well, but I know there was guys from Queensland who have had some border-related issues."

While the late spring rain has posed problems for the winter harvest, Mr Powell said it was helping the upcoming cotton season to "shape up nicely".

"We have got our full irrigation acreage in, which is a bit unusual," he said.

"There's plenty of water around too, which hopefully means there won't be any issues downstream at all.

"We don't do a lot of dryland summer cropping with that irrigation acreage, so we're confident it is shaping up nicely and who knows, it could help us come next winter as well soil-profile wise."

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