Substantial losses

November 25, 2016

What's left of a drowned canola crop on Stuart Feldtmann's Goomalibee farm.

Tens of millions of dollars worth of crops have been lost in the Benalla region because of record-high rainfall during the spring and winter growing seasons.

Hardest hit is the flatter country around Goorambat, Stewarton, Devenish, Thoona and Bungeet with some farmers losing up to 75 per cent of their wheat and canola crops, which have literally drowned.

Dookie-based agronomist Bruce Larcombe said it would be a huge loss to the local economy.

‘‘In a good year farmers are really good at spending it if they’ve got it — and they generally spend it locally,’’ Mr Larcombe said.

‘‘I’ve got (clients’ paddocks) that are up to 75 per cent dead, that won’t be harvested.

‘‘Overall there would be a 15 to 20 per cent loss with another 15 to 20 per cent on average impacted to some degree.

‘‘Everyone is affected. Some people will make a few dollars but some people will cover costs and that’s about all.’’

When The Ensign spoke to Stewarton farmer Stuart Feldtmann in July he was confident the highest May rainfall in a decade, followed by more heavy rain, was going to deliver a bumper crop. He said then, ‘‘As long as it rains in September, we’ll be right.’’

What he hadn’t banked on was the highest September falls since records began.

‘‘Tens of millions of dollars have been lost throughout the cropping lands of Benalla Rural Shire this year from soil saturation,’’ Mr Feldtmann said.

‘‘The cropping families in the shire are highly motivated innovators and adaptors of new technologies.

‘‘The late ’70s and early ’80s saw some of these families take on direct drilling (single-pass seeding), which is now practised all over Australia and internationally to some degree.

‘‘They were also among the first in the state to adopt controlled traffic to broadacre dryland farming in the late ’90s.

‘‘With climate change and greater variability in weather patterns we are looking for world’s best practice and new technologies to help us with dealing with saturated soils when they occur.’’

Mr Feldtmann said it was time governments gave more support to an already innovative and forward-thinking farming community to ensure losses of such magnitude did not hit what was largely a farming-based local economy

Mr Larcombe said the problems started to set in much earlier in the season than most farmers realised.

‘‘It started off in May when it was very wet. The crops had very shallow root systems right through the winter and they started getting really high and tall and heavy and they didn’t have the root system to hold themselves up... they basically just fell over,’’ Mr Larcombe said.

‘‘We then had the phenomenally wet September and (some) crops still were hanging on very well, but they get to that reproductive phase and they just don’t handle it.

‘‘They’re under stress when they reproduce and that doesn’t matter if it’s wheat or canola, as soon as they get stress during flowering their seed set is reduced.’’

— Benalla Ensign

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