Hanging out for rain

27 Jun, 2013 02:00 AM
MUNTADGIN farmer Jeff Hooper is still smiling despite the lack of rain.  This picture was taken in May during a seeding program, but many farms throughout the Eastern Wheatbelt are as bare as this now with seed dormant in dry conditions.
MUNTADGIN farmer Jeff Hooper is still smiling despite the lack of rain. This picture was taken in May during a seeding program, but many farms throughout the Eastern Wheatbelt are as bare as this now with seed dormant in dry conditions. "Yeah it's tough but we got between 6.5 and 7mm throughout our farm two weeks ago and that germinated the last of our crop," Mr Hooper said.

ANOTHER week of no rain has turned the screws on Eastern Wheatbelt farmers.

And like a football coach watching his team being belted by the opposition, there is nothing they can do.

Though some forecasters are tipping rain for Saturday, a persistent high pressure cell may thwart any chances of a cold front reaching as high as the Eastern Wheatbelt.

For the majority of farmers in the district, this season represents the last roll of the dice and they are now in the miracle zone.

But there is still hope.

Yilgarn farmer Romolo Patroni remembers that in 1956 it didn't rain until July 6.

I remember in 1999, the rain needed to get crops going, didn't come until early August.

But it's hard to ignore facts and while crops in other parts of the Wheatbelt look really good, large tracts of cropping land in the Eastern Wheatbelt are under increased pressure as a promising weather front last weekend failed to deliver any rain in the area.

"We got a couple of drops," Mr Patroni said.

"But it wasn't enough to put on the windscreen wipers.

"We need at least an inch (25mm) to get crops moving.

"It has become desperate now and all we can do now is hang in.

"I drove east of Merredin last week and it's looking like January or February, really dry.

"We'll have to unload sheep soon because we can't keep feeding them and you can be sure the cost pressures are really starting to hurt people now.

"Unfortunately the banks have forced a few sales in our area and it's not good.

"One property was listed at $295 a hectare and sold for $195/ha and another was $200/ha under market price.

"I honestly don't know what farmers can do and the situation is compounded by the fact that a lot of young people aren't hanging in.

"I fear a large displacement of farmers from this area if we have another bad cropping year."

Westonia farmer Ross Della Bosca remained upbeat despite thoughts of a possible negative outcome.

"We're in the same boat as everybody else out here," he said.

"We cut fertiliser rates back to put in as much crop as we could and we've established 8500ha as a last roll of the dice.

"Our place is probably the best in the area because a lot of guys still haven't got crop out of the ground.

"It's as dry as a bone and we all needed rain last weekend.

"I can only hope our crops survive long enough to get the roots down to the subsoil moisture.

"It's very patchy on the heavy country but where there's sand it's okay for now.

"The worst thing is there's no sheep feed and guys are carting water and hand-feeding sheep and in many cases, it is now a case of selling the sheep.

"We're not alone.

"Once you go east of Meckering it starts to show how poor the crops are and it's on both sides of Great Eastern Highway.

"South Burracoppin is the worst I've seen it but there are parts of south Merredin that jagged between 40mm and 50mm in May and that's looking magnificent."

Narembeen farmer Bill Cowan said the displacement of farmers from the Eastern Wheatbelt could be as bad as during the Great Depression.

"We're not immune and people have had to carry us a bit until we got some bank finance," he said.

"But everybody went into this year with big debts and that all has to be repaid at the end of the year.

"No harvest will mean no debt repayments so the displacement could be huge.

"We needed rain last week but we only recorded a mill.

"We needed five mill to keep going and 10mm to give us hope of a good season.

"We've got everything out of the ground but the crops are under stress now and I think between 25 and 30 per cent of our canola won't make it."

According to Mr Cowan, many farmers sold off-farm assets to give themselves one last chance of growing a good crop.

"We've had three foreclosures in the district, there have been six at Southern Cross and four in one day at Hyden.

"Small businesses also are feeling the pinch in the ripple effect that is created in this type of year."

Real estate agents throughout the Eastern Wheatbelt were reluctant to discuss the situation on record.

"There are plenty of rumours and speculation about what is happening," one real estate salesman said.

"Obviously we're staring at a potential below average production year out here and the banks are getting nervous but I am not seeing any rise in bank requests for mortgagee and possession (sales)," he said.

"About 95 per cent of the listings I've got are coming from farmers wanting to sell.

"I would think that would reflect the fact that banks are putting pressure on farmers to sell and it's widely known there are plenty of discussions being held between banks and farmers.

"A lot of farmers have loans with conditions and on most loans, usually 90 per cent of the lending is done against the farm.

"So obviously if the season doesn't go well, the farmer will be under pressure."

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Western Districts
27/06/2013 7:59:13 AM, on Farm Weekly

Plenty of crops now falling over in the Western Districts now. If we don't get rain soon the damage will be irreversible by any amount of rain because the crop will be weak and the grass weeds will regerminate and take over. Disaster unfolding
drowning in debt
27/06/2013 8:03:39 AM, on Farm Weekly

its all over red rover! the stockmarket has turned to guano and even if we do go for a CBH listing it is simply too late to now avoid unfathomable amounts of farmland hitting the pages in Elders. this mess is the making of the CBH board and ignorant shareholders who cannot see how important it has been to bring the equity back onto the books of farmers. denial is now a costly state of mind
27/06/2013 8:05:20 AM, on Farm Weekly

Looks like we will get to 2000 CBH shareholders sooner than even I anticipated. More equity for the remaining strong even with a devalueing CBH!!
interested observer
27/06/2013 8:15:25 AM, on Farm Weekly

What irks me about this situation is that CBH in effect became the lender of last resort allowing farmers to roll the dice who were up to their eyeballsin debt. The board have turned to speculating with other growers equity on bets even the banks aren't prepared to make. Pretty soon CBH itself is going to face a solvency test because there is a bunch of loons in control of te asylum. This board has NO exoperience in dealing with such a debt laden mess as serious global competition emerges. Kiss your CBH goodbye. It will go to the competition for cents in the dollar.
27/06/2013 10:11:40 AM, on Farm Weekly

Doesn't need to be any foreclosures happening. If CBH was corporatised these farmers could sell on their own terms instead of being forced to by the banks. Farmers are their own worst enemies unfortunately.
27/06/2013 10:40:40 AM, on Farm Weekly

we've got no choice now. farms equity is blown. banks raising their minimum standards. no buyers for land unless severely discounted. plenty of cockies paying up to 15% interest on inputs using vendor finance. crazy stuff. this hole is deep and we gotta look at all options. where do i vote yes for my cbh share?? these directors are all ex AWB supporters why trust them. its production failure not price failure that has killed the wheatbelt. where would we be if we hadn't been getting $20 more per tonne for our wheat since we stopped subsidising eastern states boys??
27/06/2013 11:24:11 AM, on Farm Weekly

Accessing CBH equity will satisfy the banks but do absolutely nothing ( and probably push up) the cost base for those still farming
goaty bull
27/06/2013 1:34:02 PM, on Farm Weekly

Another original comment from Drowning in debt - Lets say we list CBH, in a tough time the shareholders (mainly super or hedge funds) would want a greater return on equity, they wouldn't get it without screwing farmers. Farmers revolt and use other infrastructure to export grain. CBH gets sold down and our infrastructure is owned by either a US or Canadian conglomerate. Poor result for WA growers. Bottom line is growers who have borrowed too much might need to start again. It looks like there will be plenty of cheap land around to do it too.
28/06/2013 8:25:29 AM, on Farm Weekly

Does CBH understand it has now exposed itself and the whole shareholder base to the debt crisis by providing funds to farmers who couldn't get money from the bank? How will they ever recoup funds if the season closes out like it appears to have already done? CBH may be the next one with its hand out to govt for a bailout? What a shambolic move! Get farmers off the board
28/06/2013 8:37:42 AM, on Farm Weekly

Hoe grass , CBH have not yet advanced funds, final due diligence on individual growers happening now. funds will not be loaned if risk of crop . failure high .Cbh is a very sound entity in relation to its finances.
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