THE fickleness of the rainfall received in the Millewa during this year’s grain season is on full display on Ian Arney’s Werrimull South property where paddocks of barley less than a kilometre apart have extremely different growth heights and density.
In contrast to last season’s excellent crop yields, 2021 is shaping up to be a bumper year for some and average to below average for others, depending on the rain your property has received.
Mr Arney invited the ‘Weekly to his property to see the progress of this season’s barley crop.
“The paddock that we’re standing in will probably yield half a tonne to the acre − at least a tonne to the hectare − whereas the other paddock we were in earlier, and is less than a kilometre away, there is no way it will even go close to producing 0.8 of a tonne,” he said.
“It’s about half of the crop, simply because the rain more or less stopped between here and a kilometre away.”
Mr Arney said that the patchy rainfall pattern is a characteristic of the Millewa.
“Werrimull South and over towards Bambill South, back in December last year and January and February this year, we had pretty good summer rain, but a lot of the Millewa didn’t get any of that,” he said.
“In some places I have stored moisture, but unfortunately it’s not where my crops are this year.
“Had my crops been on the ground that got the rain, I’d be in a lot better shape because of that stored moisture.
“There are other growers whose crops are getting by from one shower of rain to the next, and there isn’t any sub-soil moisture available for the plants and therefore it’s going to be hit and miss this year.”
Any rain that does fall between now and when the crops mature in advance of harvest, will still be of some benefit to the Arney’s barley.
“With my crops I’ll be happy to take rain for another few weeks and especially if we get any in the coming week. That will keep them ticking along nicely,” he said.
“I’d be absolutely wrapped. There are a few other crops around this area that I’ve seen that have had enough rain now and they’ll finish beautifully, but if we get ran in two to three weeks time, that could actually have a detrimental impact on those crops.
“And the reason for that is, they will be matured or maturing, and in the case of wheat, any additional rain it will probably reduce the protein level in that grain and the lower the protein level, usually the lower the price.
“Barley is a different story, it copes much better. Rain at the right time is fantastic, but rain at the wrong time can be detrimental.”
Mr Arney said that some farmers will commence harvesting in about three weeks time.
“Most will have completed the harvest by mid-December because there aren’t massive yields around this year because there aren’t massive crops,” he said.
“Having said that, there are still some wheat crops that are similar to my barley that are in amazingly good condition despite not having a lot of rain. ”They have struggled a little bit, but the heads are almost full, and if they can just maintain the moisture levels high enough, they will fill-out with good grain quality and size.”
Mr Arney’s crop rotation this year saw him planting all barley and a small area of oats.
“I planted my crops in late June, because I was concerned about the lack of soil cover and so I didn’t want to disturb the soil until absolutely necessary because I didn’t want it to blow away,” he said.
“And so on that basis, barley was the best choice, because it grows with quite a bit of vigour and covers quite well and tends to have a shorter growing season than wheat and hence my decision to grow all barley this year.”
Mr Arney has 600 hectares of barley in the ground and 100 hectares of oats the rest of his property has sheep running on it.
Last year we had a bumper crop – it was fantastic and there were some crop yields with the wheat that were more than four tonnes per hectare and I’d never seen that before,” he said.
“It certainly wasn’t on our property, but Ron Hards did have those sort of yields and it was so good to see that land around here could produce a crop like that it was amazing. And his barley was even better than that.”
Despite China’s decision to hike tariffs on Australian barley last year and the ban on imports of other produce Mr Arney believes prices will be good this season.
“I think the pricing will be up higher that it is currently sitting at,” he said.
“Generally at harvest time, when there is a lot of grain around and people are delivering it, the price tends to drop.
“But not long after the harvest, it usually picks up and so if you can afford to hang on to grain on farm and store it, there is usually a price advantage – not always – but the majority of time there is. It also comes down to what production there is in the rest of the world.”
By JOHN DOOLEY
ABOVE: Ethan with his dad Ian Arney.