Rain continues to be a harvest challenge

Shannon Beattie
By Shannon Beattie
November 26 2021 - 10:00am
Michael O'Callaghan fired up his headers and got stuck into some early sown barley about October 12, which is about 10 days earlier than usual.

AFTER three major weather events during the first four weeks of harvest, Marchagee farmer Michael O'Callaghan is feeling the jumpiest he can ever remember.

While what has been harvested so far has all yielded above average, having been stopped for almost two weeks due to rain has caused delays to progress and potential issues with quality to arise.

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Mr O'Callaghan fired up his headers with some early-sown barley on about October 12, which is about 10 days earlier than usual and since that point has received between 70 and 80 millimetres of rain, plus wind and hail, across several weather events.

The early sown barley went in the ground on April 25 and while that sounds like a normal date to be seeding, it was a huge shake-up to the order in which crops are usually sown, with barley normally planted last, often in the last week of May, after canola, lupins and wheat.

"The idea behind it was to avoid the hot and dry September which is happening, especially the dry component of it, nearly every year," Mr O'Callaghan said.

"While we did have summer rain which helped, I think we would do it again regardless of an early break or not as maximising the growing season and avoiding the hot and dry spring is more important."

While Mr O'Callaghan has been lucky in the past two years with a mild finish to the season, which is just as crucial as rainfall, he said there was absolutely no denying that the climate was getting drier, although there is a debate whether it is a cycle or a permanent change.

"If you offered me 10mm in September but the temperature was never higher than 22 degrees, or 40mm but a week of 35oC, then I would take the less rainfall and lower temperatures," he said.

"We have also had the double whammy with no rain and high temps so the crops just get to a certain stage and fall over, but luckily that hasn't happened this year."

With 428mm falling to date this year, 255mm of which was during the growing season, it has been an above average year for rainfall and while that was welcome up until October, it's been a nightmare during harvest.

The plan had been to finish harvesting the early sown barley quickly and smoothly, when they had access to extra trucks to deliver the barley the 180 kilometre round trip, by which time it would have been perfect to get into the canola.

However the weather didn't allow that, so when the canola copped wind and hail damage at the end of October, Mr O'Callaghan decided to leave just one header on the barley and move the other two over to the canola.

That also assisted with the trucking problem as three trucks were not keeping up with three harvesters.

"With the bad weather, the barley started to fall over and it became a bit harder to harvest," he said.

"About 30 per cent of the barley went malt and we were getting a $33 premium for Spartacus and $43 premium for Planet on that.

"Having planted it early, we knew malt would be harder to achieve because there was a higher chance it would rain when it was ripe, so we were very happy to get that 30p."

With the 1200 hectares of early sown barley now finished, three headers are going hammer and tong on canola, which makes up about 30 per cent of the overall cropping program.

With that 1200ha of barley now finished, all three headers are going hammer and tong on canola, which makes up about 30pc of the overall cropping program.

Mr O'Callaghan said the saving grace for the canola crops has been the PodGuard technology which had really shown up this year.

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"When the canola crops got beaten by the wind and hail, the PodGuard varieties didn't lose anything, whereas the standard varieties would have lost 15 to 30pc,"

"It's worth so much money and we've thrown the kitchen sink at it with fertiliser, mice baiting and fungicides and along with the seed cost it has cost a lot of money, so we desperately need to harvest it as soon as possible.

"Canola is certainly a crop with a lot of uncertainty, until the trucks are driving out of the paddock, so it probably needs to be worth these high amounts to be a viable crop."

With it also only taking two to three rain events for wheat to start to think about sprouting, 45pc of the program is now in that window, causing another area of concern.

However, in recent checks of the wheat no sprouting has been seen so far.

Adding to weather problems is frost and while some farmers in the eastern Wheatbelt have lost massive tonnage, Mr O'Callaghan has also lost significant amounts in some areas.

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"You have a plan but then the weather changes and prices go up or down, so the plan goes out the window," he said.

"I used to work up north on a diamond mine and I reckon in 11 years I only woke up once or twice thinking about work, whereas in farming it's a different game and while I sleep reasonably well, you do think about work a lot more.

"It's a challenge, you're not doing the same thing month to month and every season is different, but hopefully this year the challenge will ultimately be worth it."

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