HARVEST in the Riverland and Murray Mallee is shaping up as one of the best in years.
According to Elders Loxton senior agronomist Brian Lynch, Riverland croppers began harvesting vetch and canola late last month and have moved onto lentil and chickpea crops.
"A lot of farmers sprayed their legumes this year to get them off more quickly," he said.
"But the barley harvest will be held up. Although the crops look ripe from the outside, there is a lot of green tillers underneath, due to the late spring rain.
"Generally, the crops are the best they've been for at least 10 years, with estimated yields for wheat between 1.5 tonnes a hectare to 3t/ha, while barley should yield 2-4t/ha, so it is variable."
Mr Lynch said pre-seeding rainfall varied from 20 millimetres up to 100mm, which on the back of two years of drought had made farmers cautious.
"Not everyone had a decent start, so they probably held back a bit on the fertiliser applications, but the late rains have helped to finish the crops off," he said.
"Now we just need dry, warm conditions through harvest."
Mr Lynch said many growers had reduced their area sown to barley, replacing it with wheat due to the better returns predicted at seeding, while chickpeas had also grown in popularity.
"Chickpeas are shaping up to be the go-to legume with about 10,000 hectares sown in the area this year, compared with 2000ha in 2019," he said.
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Farmer Johns agronomist Tim Harris, based at Murray Bridge, said croppers in the Murray Mallee were only just starting their canola harvest.
"We are very optimistic," he said.
"I think it's going to be one of the biggest harvests in the region for many years.
"Canola yields could be around 1.5t/ha-plus, while wheat and barley should yield more than 2.5t/ha.
"We had about 50mm to 60mm in early August, which was a real kick along, and it's been a kind, soft spring with negligible frost damage."
But Mr Harris said in-crop weed control had been a challenge this season and could cause contamination concerns, especially if harvest was delayed due to weather.
"The late spring rains have caused a lot of ryegrass germination, which may have an impact in terms of contamination and potato weed is also one to watch," he said.
In the northern Mallee, Meribah cropper Jeff Hampel said they were concerned during the dry July and early winter, which had "burnt off" a bit of their heavy country, but they had an 25mm in early October, totalling nearly 200mm of growing season rainfall, which has helped to finish crops off.
"It was a pain for our hay on the ground, but our wheat has definitely benefited from the spring rains," he said.
"But we definitely have had enough rain now - such a vast difference to last year when we didn't even reap some crops.
"We should also go into next year now with good soil moisture."
According to Mick Sparnon, agronomist and owner of Sparnon Rural, which operates Nutrien Ag Solutions in Pinnaroo, harvest in his region could reach heights of four tonnes a hectare for wheat.
Mr Sparnon said harvest started tentatively in the region at the end of October, with some farmers harvesting barley.
But it kicked in mid-month with barley and then pulse crops, moving onto wheat in the coming weeks.
He said at seeding, it looked as though wheat would get a higher return, with many farmers opting that way and reducing barley crops.
He said with good rain in winter and early spring, it was looking like a bumper harvest was on its way.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we got 4t/ha wheat crops in our area," he said.
"That's compared to 1.3-1.5t/ha crops in the past few years. But it's going to be tricky with the weather.
"The whole area wouldn't say no if it stayed dry for the next few weeks."
"You will struggle to find a poor crop in the district," according to Southern Mallee cropper Lynton Barrett, who expects this season to fare better than 2016, weather permitting.
Lynton crops 2000 hectares west of Lameroo with wife Suze and son Josh, who recently returned to the family farm. They also have a 2600-ewe Merino flock.
"The difference with 2016 is we had some cracking crops, but they were patchy," he said.
"There are no lighter crops this year bringing the average down. Even our lighter grazing country will go three tonnes/ha."
Lynton said they mainly had Compass barley in and legumes - vetch, beans and lupins - to keep the rotation simple.
"At the start of the season, it was just Suze and I managing 4000ha-plus, but now with Josh on board, we will make changes next year," he said.
"But this country is really suited to barley - we will get up to 4t/ha pretty easily here. Plus the stubbles are better for our stock.
"Our faba beans are also looking really good.
"They're not tall because of the dry July, but they have podded up really well."
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