SAFFRON HOWDEN April 11, 2012
Putting on a brave face … sorghum farmer Trevor Loveridge, on his property outside Gunnedah, is still recovering from two of the hardest winters, which he says were the worst on record. Photo: Paul Mathews
LONG after the floods swallowed country towns and water poured across the state's farmland, Trevor Loveridge is still tackling the weeds that invaded his sodden paddocks and fixing the ruts that criss-cross his property outside Gunnedah.
A farmer for more than five decades, Mr Loveridge, 64, said the past couple of winters had been among the hardest. ''It's right up there,'' he said. ''The last two winter harvests have been the worst on record, I would say.'' And Mr Loveridge is one of the lucky ones.
The latest official NSW grains report, to be released today, paints a fairly healthy picture of the state's food bowl despite three significant floods in as many months, but many individual farmers have had their entire crop destroyed.
''[There was] complete crop loss on particular farmers' places, but more often than not a lot of it was downgrading,'' said a NSW Department of Primary Industries grains specialist, Peter Matthews.
''Overall, the impact across our summer crop hasn't been significant, but on an individual basis the losses have been severe. A lot of crop was water-logged and some of it actually got destroyed in the flooding.''
The sorghum crop - used in animal feed - is expected to be almost 40,000 tonnes higher than last summer's total by the time harvesting is complete.
The area of canola sown for winter is forecast to reach an all-time high of almost 550,000 hectares - 39 per cent greater than the 2011 harvest area, while chickpea sowings are likely to be 24 per cent higher than last year.
In areas not directly affected by flooding, the excess water has improved conditions for growers, the department's grains report found. ''The silver lining is that good summer rain has set the state up for a big winter crop this year,'' the Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, said.
''The summer rainfall has resulted in all major storage dams at near full capacity and this water availability will underpin a solid irrigated winter crop this season."
But parts of many farms remain under water, weeds have flourished in fallow fields made inaccessible by flooding, and wheat production - the state's biggest crop - is estimated to fall 4 per cent this year due to low prices.
Yesterday Mr Loveridge, who was harvesting his sorghum crop that at $146 a tonne was ''barely covering production costs'', said grain quality had been affected by the rain even though his 1400-hectare family property experienced only localised flooding.
''We were rather fortunate in that regard,'' he said. ''It made it difficult getting around and trying to stay on top of weeds.''
But he still lost about 300 tonnes of barley, he said.