Frost could ruin record crops

WA farmers are expecting a record crop this spring but are still worried that late frosts might hit them hard over the next few weeks.

With a diminishing grain price also weighing on the minds of farmers, the period through to mid-October could determine whether the haul reaches the 17.1 million tonnes that have been predicted.

WA Farmers spokeswoman Madison McNeil said farmers were not prepared to call it a bumper crop just yet.

“We’ve still got the potential for frost, which will take out a fair bit of the crop this year,” she said.

“There is a frost event in the next few weeks, so while [farmers] are tentatively excited about [the forecast crop], [farmers] are anxious about the coming weeks and any weather events.”

Some farmers have already been hit with frost over the past month.

“The impacts of those frost events are coming through now, Ms McNeil said.

“However, because of the stage the crops were at when the frost event came through, it was probably not as bad as it would be if it came through now.

“September is always a frost-prone month, everyone always expects a ‘frost window’.”

The expectation of a bigger crop was caused because of the early rainfall received by wheat-growing areas, but this also put the crops at risk of frost damage.

“A lot of farmers went earlier with their crop which made them more susceptible to the frost in September.” McNeil said.

Agricultural consultant Steve Curtin said most of the frost damage in the South-West happened in mid-late September.

“When the crops are flowering normally, there’s crops out there flowering now, and if we get a frost in the next coming weeks there will be a lot more susceptible crops out there,” he said.

“If we get the temperatures, there is no guarantee there is going to be a frost, the grounds wet and cloud covers on at the moment and if we get a front coming through then the chances are we’ll probably see more frost”

Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Neil Bennett said there could be frost on the way in the next week.

“There will be potentially frosts in the northern parts of the Wheatbelt on Thursday and another event on Saturday for parts of the inland southwest division and also on Tuesday,” he said.

“We’ve got some cold fronts moving through into the state and then a high pressure system will move over rapidly and that’s fairly classic frost-type conditions.”

The other big worry farmers face is the low grain price, according to WA Grains Group chairman Doug Clarke.

“The grain price is at a 40-year low,” he said. “All this about feeding the world is a load of rubbish, you have an oversupply of grain all around the world. There’s a good chance you’ll get higher yield, but if you look into the 4o-year-old commodity price in grain and Australian dollar terms, it takes a bit of shine off your income.

“The headlines are all ‘bumper crops there it’s going to be wonderful’ but the reality is it’s a bit like watching your favourite football team.

“They might be in the finals, but they haven’t got to the grand final and they haven’t won it yet.”