Waikerie croppers aim for seed recovery; other regions fade fast as dry bites

Waikerie croppers aim for seed recovery; other regions fade fast as dry bites

Cropping
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WHILE a recent state government crop and pasture report has predicted the most valuable harvest on record for 2021-21, largely due to high grain prices, growers near Waikerie are just hopeful of getting their seed back after a brutal season.

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WHILE a recent state government crop and pasture report has predicted the most valuable harvest on record for 2021-22, largely due to high grain prices, growers near Waikerie are just hopeful of getting their seed back after a brutal season.

Crops in parts of the Riverland and Southern Mallee are in dire straits, leaving growers feeling frustrated and letdown by predictions of above average winter and spring rainfall that did not - and look unlikely to - eventuate.

Father and son Andrew and Dwayne Leske, and Kane Schutz - Waikerie croppers and members of the Lowbank Ag Bureau - say their frustration this season has stemmed from forecasts of rain events letting them down again and again.

"The forecast of a wet spring gives you a little bit of confidence to go at seeding time and to spread fertiliser later on, but it just haven't eventuated," Dwayne said.

Last week, they watched a predicted 5 millimetre to 10mm rainfall event skirt past them.

"I know it's only a guide but you live on that hope that you might get some rain tomorrow and keep crops alive, but then tomorrow comes and goes and you've had nothing," Dwayne said.

The Leskes grow wheat, barley, triticale, canola, peas and vetch.

They have only had 85mm for the growing season and are experiencing their fourth bad year in the past five.

Andrew said while they had "diesel and dirt in their blood" and would try again next year, rising input costs made it a daunting prospect financially.

"We're looking at seed recovery now and if we don't get anymore rain there might not be any of that," Andrew said.

"Between fertiliser, chemical and fuel we're looking at $150,000 of inputs just to go again next year, on top of what we lose this year."

They are expecting 0.1-0.2 tonne a hectare yields or seed recovery from cereals, with their best patches maybe reaching 0.5t/ha - still under cost of production.

Mr Schutz sowed on the back of 9mm in late May and 12mm for June and like the Leskes, has had a shocking season.

"We might get seed back in this area but there's no chance we'll cover costs," he said. "If we'd had 20mm two weeks ago it probably would have saved us but it's too far gone now."

While some areas within the region are quite good, it's definitely going to be a below-average season for the Southern Mallee, according to Nutrien - Byrne Ag Lameroo and Karoonda manager and agronomist Stephen Byrne.

He said while it was a tough year cropping and hay production-wise near Lameroo and Karoonda, there was a silver lining.

"It'll be a tough year cashflow-wise for cropping and hay programs but most of our district is made up of mixed farmers so with what meat products are worth, that's a good offset," he said.

Mr Byrne said a lack of summer rainfall was a big issue for the region's growers who then did not have a break until late June.

Croppers received between 50-80mm in July, but August and September were "very light on".

Mr Byrne said there was a lot of leaf tipping, a sign of moisture stress, in wheat on heavier ground and 10-15mm last weekend would not turn the season around.

"The rain is still helping because while it may not be boosting yields significantly, it's slowing the ripening process down and growers may get better grain weight," he said.

"It is disappointing but when you're farming in the Southern Mallee you're going to get these seasons occasionally."

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