Millewa farmer Ian Arney showing Victorian premier Daniel Andrews the lay of the land in October.

By JOHN DOOLEY

IN a recent article, the ‘Weekly reported that grain growers were facing shortages of critical fertilisers and weed controlling products that are needed as they sow this season’s crops.

Millewa grain grower Ian Arney, has echoed those concerns, saying that he knows of a number of farmers who are struggling to source the agri-inputs they require at this time with sowing under way.

“Certainly a few people I know in the Millewa can’t source chemicals, and they’ve tried to obtain supplies from a number of resellers, including ones that they trade with on a regular basis,” Mr Arney said.

“They’ve been to others, some of whom have signs up saying that they are only dealing with clients who have established accounts, and so they can’t buy it there either, regardless of whether that agency actually has something available or not.

“Therefore, in the absence of being able to source the chemicals locally, they are now having to cast-the-net further afield − but it certainly is a problem.”

The bulk of the premixed chemicals or the ingredients needed to produce these products locally come from China, and with the interruption of the supply chain due to coronavirus there is a scarcity.

Mr Arney said this was another example of where Australia’s lack of self-sufficiency in many product categories has been shown-up during the current crisis.

“Ever since I was a kid I couldn’t get my head around the fact, that for example, Australia would mine a resource, sell it overseas, and someone would refine it and turn it into a product and sell it back to us for multiple times of the amount we exported it for – it never made sense to me,” he said.

Mr Arney is also concerned that if farmers fail to access the weed-mitigation products that they need, they may have to resort to cultivating the soil to eradicate the weeds, something that will potentially lead to more erosion.

“I’ve had a few people say to me that they will have to cultivate to control weeds, and that is the last thing that they want to do after the erosion we have had over the past two years, during sustained drought,” he said.

“If we have another dry spell, or a hot windy period like the Easter weekend, that will see one ‘mess’ continuing to make a greater mess than what we already have.”

Mr Arney said that due to the erosion and winds driving sand onto fencelines and over roads in the region, there is already a significant cost for the Mildura Rural City Council to carry out restorative works on roads in the region that need grading.

“Therefore if we have greater cultivation and more wind erosion, then the expenses just keep going up,” he said.

Mr Arney said that some farmers were in a dubious position – those who were not adequately ‘cashed-up’ to purchase agri-inputs earlier – are having to rely of drought loan-assistance, which in many cases had been slow in coming.

“What I have done, and what others who were in a position to do, has meant that we’re in a good position at the moment, because we have everything we need to put the crop in and treat the weeds ‘in crop’, so we can make it through to August with the supplies we have,” he said.

“The delays being experienced for those seeking assistance has certainly has been a major issue. There have been some really good opportunities with the Regional Investment Corporation, but actually being able to make those materialise so that you can take advantage of them, has proven to be quite arduous.

“It’s arduous in a time sense, not so much the difficulty in applying for it – it’s the time frames involved, which are protracted, and so you’re waiting, waiting for someone to contact you and say ‘yes you have the go ahead’. And when they do ring you or contact you by email, you still have months to wait before you actually have access to finance.”

Mr Arney said that the Rural Financial Counselling service had been a beneficial resource, but not everyone had found the service a positive.

“Not everyone has been completely satisfied. I don’t know why, but certainly from my point of view they have been great with the assistance they have offered me,” he said.

“It’s like a lot of things, you can hear a hundred positives, and it only takes one negative to stick in your mind to cloud that.”

Welcome rain!
However, there is some good news in the Millewa in the form of the rainfall that has been received this year, giving farmers new hope that a good season awaits them, despite the fact that the amount recorded across the region varies to quite a degree.

“There’s a huge difference in rainfall figures out here, I was talking to another farmer, whose a mate of mine, and he’s right out in the western end of the Millewa, and he’s only recorded 39mm for the year, whereas the minimum I have had across my properties, is 86mm and the maximum is about 115mm,” Mr Arney said.

“I also have a friend who is a grower in the Carwarp area, and they didn’t receive anything from the rain that fell in February when I had a significant amount. Having said that, they certainly have had a good drink during March, which has turned things around for them.

“They’re now over the 50mm mark or two inches in the old scale, and so they’re now feeling a lot more confident, but there’s a long way to go before people can well and truly say that we are all out of the drought and things are looking okay.”

After enduring year on year of virtual crop failures due to the extreme and prolonged drought in the Millewa, Mr Arney is confident that this season is going to be a good one.

“I hope so, I really hope so. Prices are certainly buoyant at the moment, and I hope they’re going to stay there. They could come-off 25 percent, and they’d they still be reasonable,” he said.

Since speaking with the ‘Weekly, Mr Arney said the Millewa received some more “excellent rain” this week, with his property recording another 25mm.

As the saying goes − every little drop counts!