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Western NSW farmers hope rain does not damage the 'best crop in their lifetime'

By Lucy Thackray, Monday September 28, 2020 - 14:35 EST
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Trangie farmer Tom Quigley will harvest his wheat crop in six weeks. - ABC

Farmers have spent years "praying for rain", but now people are desperately hoping rain won't cause major issues in the final countdown to harvest.

Rain began to fall in western New South Wales in February, and many farmers planted crops for the first time since the drought began in 2017.

Across the region farmers predominantly sowed cereal crops like wheat, barley and oats, with some also choosing to plant lupins, canola and chickpeas.

Harvest will start on properties around the region between late October and mid-November, with incredibly promising crops thanks to consistent rain and near-perfect conditions.

However, heavy rainfall between now and harvest could cause significant damage, with the potential to even downgrade crop quality and reduce the final price.

'Best crops since 2016'

Tom Quigley farms between Trangie and Nevertire and he planted wheat this season, as well as some barley and chickpeas.

"The crops look really good. They're really promising. They're the best crops we've grown since 2016, so we're really looking forward to hopefully having a dry harvest," Mr Quigley said.

"These last six weeks before harvest, there'll be plenty of nervousness but excitement as well. It'll be very exciting to get to harvest and rip these crops off.

"The season set itself up really well, the price is reasonable but we're still six weeks from making a start on the harvest."

He said they were most concerned about heavy rain or hail between now and harvest.

Farmers hoping heavy rain holds off now

Around the Trangie-Narromine region, minimal rain is needed to finish the crops off.

Mr Quigley said there had been a consistent 30 to 40 millimetres of rain every month and that had set the crop up well.

"We probably don't need too much more to get these crops home. Maybe another 25 millimetres would be spot on," Mr Quigley said.

A successful harvest is vital to farmers who are hoping to make their way back from the drought.

"This harvest means a lot and everyone in this region would be in a similar boat. We've lasted a few years without any real income and we've still had all our costs," Mr Quigley said.

"We've invested a lot of money into these crops to make sure it can grow to its full potential, so we have a lot riding on this crop.

"Hopefully, we can make up for a year or two of the drought with this crop and start getting back square."

Best in 40 years

The turnaround from dust storms to bumper crops in just months has amazed farmers.

Narromine farmer Harley Crawford is thrilled with his wheat crop this year and is looking at harvesting in mid-November.

"The crops are looking really good. It's been a magic year. All the ducks have lined up for us for once, but I think we're due for a bit of luck!" he said.

"I haven't seen it like this in my lifetime. My dad says this is a one in 40-year season. The district looks amazing. It's fantastic."

He said good, timely rain, and a good break in the weather to get the crops in on time had made it a strong season.

Impact will depend on next rain

Mr Crawford is also cautious about the impact of a wet spring.

"Fingers crossed we can also get a dry three weeks to get the crop off," he said.

"If we have a wet harvest, we'll have downgraded wheat, but there's not much you can do about that, we just have to play it by ear."

He said the impact would depend on how much it rained and how damaged the wheat was.

"A wet harvest can mean some big discounts in wheat harvest, which can definitely hurt the bottom line."

He said there had been so much to learn from the drought.

"Droughts end and they turn around quickly. I think that's really surprised me. With a flick of the switch, they can turn around."


© ABC 2020

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