Record crop yields after the pinery bushfire

Record crop yields after the pinery bushfire

26 March 2017

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Australia —  MID North farmer Newton Liones is still smiling after harvesting record crop yields, helping lift the spirits of the fifth-generation grower after the deadly Pinery bushfire destroyed the region.

Like many farmers in the district, Mr Liones could hardly fathom the clean-up of the November 2015 fire, which claimed two lives, destroyed more than 90 homes and blackened 85,000 hectares of farmland.

But nearly a year after the blaze, rising from the bone-dry paddocks once covered in ash were the best wheat, barley and pea crops on record at his Pinkerton Plains property.

The yields improved by 10-20 per cent and wheat, especially, provided a return of 36 bags to the acre — the equivalent of 7.5 tonnes to the hectare.

“The fact of going through that fire and then reaping all those really good crops, you just thought ‘wow how could this happen’,” Mr Liones, 69, said.

“Grain prices weren’t that great, but the honour and glory of having your best crops ever is something pretty special for a farmer.”

South Australia’s crop and pasture January report, released last week, estimated the state’s grain growers reaped a record 11.1 million tonnes, worth about $2.2 billion.

The report stated yields across most agricultural districts were above average, including the Yorke Peninsula where cereal yields were 50 per cent or more above the average — 3.5 to 8.5t/ha.

In many areas of the Upper South East, canola harvest yields were 25-30 per cent above the long-term average, while in the Lower North wheat and barley yields were 50 per cent or move above the long-term average.

Across the state, there was some downgrading of wheat, barley and pulses due to frost, discolouration and hail damage, but the crop profile was better than expected given the rainfall during harvest.

Mr Liones said this season’s harvest had been a comfort after the region had such a difficult year recovering from one of South Australia’s worst bushfires.

The Liones’ family lost 700 adjusted sheep on their property, dozens of lambs, a header, a new land roller, sheds and nearly their house after the fire set the roof alight.

“I wasn’t even thinking about growing a crop after all that,” Mr Liones said.

“It was the last thing you could possibly think about and seeing a neighbours place go up it just tore my heart out.”

He can still remember staring out the kitchen window watching the fire — which had a front of nearly 50km — travel with speed and ferocity towards their 768ha property.

“Visibility was nil, I could only see ash and smoke,” said Mr Liones, who has farmed the land for more than 50 years.

“Then all of the sudden it was blue skies and I thought we’d dodged it because I never saw any flames, but then I saw everything was black.”

The fire destroyed the paddocks to the point they were “maybe a little bit better than dreadful” but relentless hard work by family and friends had the crops sown by May last year.

“We barely had enough moisture to plant crops, so when the big rain came exactly six months to the day of the fire, on May 25, it was a turning point,” Mr Liones said.

“Every farmer had a smile on their face and come September/October, which are the dry months and have a hot north wind, we got rain and it was the best finish we could have ever had.”

Nationally, the bumper wheat and barley productions helped underpin a rise in the agricultural sector’s worth to $63.8 billion in 2016/17, according to the Australian Bureau of Agriculture Resource Economic and Sciences Record.

In the ABARES March report, wheat and barley production was predicted to have grown by 20 per cent to $33.9 billion.

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