10th season a challenging one for Kiara

Shannon Beattie
By Shannon Beattie
December 17 2021 - 2:00am
Cunderdin farmer Kiara Harris described the 2021 grain growing season as a rollercoaster with many highs and lows.

BIZARRE - that's the word Cunderdin farmer Kiara Harris, who is in the midst of her 10th harvest back on the family farm, would use to describe the 2021 season.

For Ms Harris, who farms alongside her father Elliot, this year was a rollercoaster with many highs and lows that they've luckily been able to get off safely.

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It all started with a dry summer, but things were looking up after a wet break and season.

Then September hit and a severe frost threatened everything, however after a soft finish the crops have held on and overall yields should end up above average.

Seeding

The start of the Harris' large deep ripping program was delayed at the beginning of the year as they waited for rain due to the dry conditions.

Eventually it got to a point where they had to bite the bullet and get going, that's when the heavens opened and dropped 90 millimetres of rain in early March.

It did dry out a fair bit again after that and then, in early April, a bit of rain appeared on the radar and seemingly didn't stop.

"It's the first season I've had where we've had constant rain all of seeding and whatever we were putting in was coming up very quickly, so we could time it really well," Ms Harris said.

"We started seeding in the first or second week of April with some long-season wheat on the deep-ripped country, then we got all of the lupins done and they were up early which has showed with massive growth this year."

Barley, oats, chickpeas and the rest of the wheat went in the ground after that, with 3500 hectares seeded in total.

Ms Harris said they did 75ha of chickpeas, which have only been part of the program for a couple of years, as a weed management tactic given they didn't do canola.

"Back when we used to do canola it was quite a laborious crop, then we started doing export hay and they clashed in timing - we were trying to finalise sprays on canola while sitting in the paddock trying to push out as many hay bales as we could," she said.

When it comes to the oats, 365ha was sown this year, but only 219ha of that was cut for hay.

The reason being that the biomass was clearly going to be massive and the family wasn't going to be able to handle that much hay as they only had so much storage available.

Wheat yields were all over the shop and varied from as low as 1.4 tonnes a hectare up to 3.5t/ha, but overall ended up about the 3t/ha mark.

Mid-season

The rain that started in April continued throughout the rest of the growing season, with it even getting too wet in June and July as records for Cunderdin were broken.

The long-term average for the whole year is 350mm.

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By the end of October, the family had received 411mm.

"While we weren't crazy above the average overall, we didn't waste a heap of it in January and February," Ms Harris said.

"It was all helpful rain and came down consistently when we needed it, rather than getting a massive deluge all at once."

The moisture may have helped the crops grow, but it also caused a few headaches including one really good bog with the boomsprayer which ended up in quite a lot of damage.

After that they were too scared to get back on the paddocks, so a lot of the south farm missed some sprays, meaning it has likely gone a bit backwards in terms of weeds and didn't get any more fertiliser put on it.

However there was a larger issue, other than bogs and waterlogging, that arose this year and that was frost.

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Ms Harris said they seeded a lot of their cereals earlier than was recommended as they usually get hit harder with heat at the end of the season, so they take the risk of a bit of frost.

"We almost had our barley through, it was at full head fill, then it just completely stem frosted off and turned brown within the week," she said.

"However when we've put a little through the header and we've still got tonnage off it, it might be terrible quality, but in any other year we wouldn't get anything, so we'll take something.

"It's the same with the wheat, because it got frosted earlier so it had a chance to recover, compensate, put up new heads and fill grain."

All of the wheat has been harvested, with barley the current focus and lupins and chickpeas to come off last.

Harvest

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Harvest for the Harrises kickstarted on November 1, which is incredibly late for them.

Over the past few years they've got stuck in by mid-October, however this season the crops were still green, making it just another way in which this season was weird.

"We could not find a dry crop anywhere and they all had these green patches, we were looking in every paddock for a spot to get started in and were getting itchy feet to get going," Ms Harris said.

"Eventually we got started with some barley but had to stop and wait again for a while before finally getting into the oats and once we were done with that, everything else had pretty much ripened."

While there had been some pretty scary rain forecasts during harvest, luckily they'd all gone around the Harris' farm, with only a few millimetres falling here and there.

However they still wanted to be careful with how much more rain they got on the wheat and had been focusing on getting that off as they didn't want to run into problems with sprouted grains and falling numbers.

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There also hasn't been any dramas with wet spots on the ground in the header so far, which is bizarre again as normally they do even in years they haven't had as much rain.

While you can tell that there was a frost aspect to the season, yields have all been better than average and so much higher than what they had budgeted for.

"The oats went 4.7 tonnes per hectare and were high quality at OAT1," Ms Harris said.

"Wheat has been all over the shop and has varied from as low as 1.4t/ha up to 3.5t/ha, but we've ended up around the 3t/ha mark."

"Barley is hard to tell as we haven't done much of it yet, nor have we really got stuck into the lupins but we're pretty confident they should both finish up above average."

Barley is being harvested at the moment, with the last of the lupins and all of the chickpeas to be the last to come off, hopefully before the end of the year.

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Frost in both wheat and barley was an issue this year.

10 years of farming

As the younger sister, it's undeniably unusual for Ms Harris to be the sibling left in charge of the family farm.

But that was the way things went after her older brother left to farm with his partner and her family down south.

Having graduated from high school in 2012, next year Ms Harris will celebrate her full first decade on the farm.

"I've been thinking over the past few weeks about what it was like when I started and how much it's changed just in that time," she said.

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"I remember when I came home I was probably the one of the only females, now you look at it and there are so many women in agriculture in Cunderdin and the attitude in farming has changed so drastically, so I feel really lucky.

"Also, what technology was like a decade ago and what it is now is so far apart, so it's amazing to think what it's going to be like in another 10 years, let alone when I retire one day."

On the operations side of the business, Ms Harris feels blessed to have such a close relationship with her dad.

She described it as one of mutual respect and admiration, with them both having equal say and taking each other's thoughts and options on board.

Ultimately, Ms Harris always knew farming was where she belonged and is grateful everyday that she is able to work on-country.

"I feel like I have a sense of duty to the land and feel a need to respect that," she said.

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