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Flooded farmers rely on helicopters and boats to finish a long and disappointing harvest

Thursday January 6, 2022 - 05:49 AEDT
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The Currey family are negotiating floodwater from three different rivers to finish harvest - ABC

Spring brought heartache when the most promising crops in years were widely damaged by rain and floods, dampening millions of dollars in value ? but the hard work was only just beginning.


In some cases, growers have been battling the elements for almost three months to harvest their grain and some could still be stripping crops in February, particularly as floodwaters surge through rivers across North-Western NSW.


From boats to kayaks and even helicopters, growers have been doing whatever it takes to cross floodwaters and reach their crops to finish the longest-running harvest in years.


Boating through flood to harvest


Sue Currey journeys to the header start with a boat trip to cross floodwaters, where she farms near Walgett in north-west NSW.


"We've had water from the Barwon, Namoi and Castlereagh Rivers all come past us. We're not the only ones stuck on an island out here though," she said.


"We just make do with what we've got and get around with what we've got."


In some good news, the Currey family is finally almost finished harvest.


"We're on the downhill run ... hopefully four to five more days and we should be finished harvesting," Ms Currey said.


"It's not the first time we've done it, but it's been a long harvest this time for everyone; the rain has just been a bit of a challenge, but we rise above it and get on with it."


"We do survive; we'll get there."


'Never isolated with a chopper'


Nearby, Walgett mixed farmer Sam Warden and his family were cut off from town before Christmas but say "you're never really cut off when you own a helicopter!"


"Flying around before Christmas there were a lot of people isolated but it's a pretty good Christmas present to know you're set up with water for 2022," he said.


"There's still a lot of crops underwater now that are completely gone. There will be people still harvesting in January, possibly into February which is pretty unheard of."


"People will be held off their farming country for quite a while."


Fortunately, the Wardens managed to strip all their crops by mid-November.


"It's about time we've had a win really; it's been a pretty solid run (of tough years) for the district," he said.


"With record prices people would be pretty happy with whatever they can get off. Even the poorer quality is going for what an average does in a good year."


Just trying to recoup costs


For some, the aim now is cost recovery, hoping the damaged crops will at least cover the expenses.


"We got up to 200mm rain in November which is actually on the lighter end of what was recorded in Coonamble, as well as some overland flow down the Castlereagh,"  Coonamble mixed farmer Adam Macrae said.


"Our cropping country took a pretty fair hit, but the outlook for 2022 is exceptional now so we've got to hook into that now."


"The operation at hand now is about getting the costs back for the 2021 crop. It just shows it's never in the bag until it's in the bag."


"It's a bitter pill to swallow when you see something you've worked hard to achieve and certainly in the top percentage of crops that you'll ever grow in your lifetime just disappear in a matter of weeks or at least have a substantial downgrade."


Relief with high prices


Further south in Trangie, mixed farmer Jason McCutcheon is on the home stretch. 


"We started harvest on November 2,  and it's just been dragging on since then; we kept getting rain," he said.


"You just couldn't seem to get a good run at it."


"I was fortunate enough to get a few days in before the rain and then the rain downgraded the wheat to a lower grade. If the rain had held off for two or three weeks, we'd have been OK."


He agrees that the high grain prices are of great benefit.


"One of the silver linings for 2021 is the commodity price has come up since 2020 so the downgraded wheat was worth just as much as the quality wheat last year."


"At worst, we get to go around again."


Looking to next season


Across the north-west of the state and the Liverpool Plains regions, farmers are still trying to harvest crops as paddocks remain soggy.


Farmers around areas like Gunnedah, Breeza, Narrabri and Wee Waa experienced not one but two floods.


Daniel Kahl is a grain grower at Wee Waa; he estimates he has lost 15 per cent of their winter crop.


?Overall, it?s still a reasonable result; I think yields from what was harvested will make up for what was lost,? he said.


?Prices being quite strong at the moment will make up for some lower quality stuff.


?I think it?s sort of a case of what could have been before the weather interfered but still not a terrible result for everyone.?


Mr Kahl will now turn his full attention to his summer cropping program.


?The prospects for the next crop are good and we?ve got plenty of water now upstream at Keepit and Split Rock dams,? Mr Kahl said.


?What was lost to the flood will hopefully be made up for with the benefit of having water around.?







- ABC

© ABC 2022

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