Heavy rain, extreme heat and wild wind leave farmers struggling to harvest
Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
For the past few weeks, grain farmers and fruit growers have nervously eyed the skies, hoping for respite from the rain that was not expected to fall.
Almost three months after the Bureau of Meteorology declared an El Nino event, which is typically associated with lower rainfall, many farmers remain puzzled by the unusually wet conditions and are wondering when the prolonged dry weather will arrive.
Rain drenched much of the state last week as summer began, causing floods in East Gippsland and saturating orchards and grain fields in the state’s north and west.
Mick Elford looks at storm clouds gathering.Credit: Erin Jonasson
Now is the harvest time for many farmers who grow grains, including wheat and barley, while orchardists would typically be busy picking stone fruit at this time of year.
But the wildly fluctuating weather and recent rain have made for highly challenging conditions for farmers, many of whom are struggling to harvest crops.
Grain farmer Mick Elford said rain had already delayed some of the wheat and barley harvests on his farm near Swan Hill.
“Everyone is worried about it, of course,” he said. “But you just learn to live with it. It’s part of farming.”
Braving the wind in Southbank on Friday.Credit: Joe Armao
Farmers can’t harvest grains in the rain, and a wet crop can result in quality downgrades that may cost each grower hundreds of thousands of dollars. But Elford said while rain might be inconvenient at this time of year, it was better to have moisture in the soil than drought.
The wet weather is forecast to continue in Melbourne on Saturday after scorching temperatures, wild wind and storms lashed parts of Victoria on Friday, when the Bureau of Meteorology issued severe weather warnings for much of the state. Fallen trees blocked roads in Melbourne and damaged property.
A State Emergency Service spokesman said the agency had received more than 170 calls for help between 9am and about 1pm on Friday. He said 145 calls were for fallen trees, while 22 were for building damage.
Grain farmer Mick Elford discusses the weather with chaser bin driver Ryder Morriss. Credit: Erin Jonasson
Heidelberg was the busiest unit, with 33 incidents logged. Melton and Fawkner crews were the next busiest.
Melbourne Airport recorded a wind gust of 94km/h at 12.21pm.
There was a total fire ban in the Wimmera and Mallee regions. The bureau issued a warning for damaging wind covering a large swath of Victoria, with gusts expected to reach 100km/h, including in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
Stone fruit grower Mick Young said his farm at Woorinen, in Victoria’s north-west, had received only about 30 millimetres of rain last week, while nearby Swan Hill had received up to 90 millimetres.
Young said the wild fluctuation in temperatures, as well as extreme heat, followed by rain, could cause havoc for his nectarine, peach and plum crops.
He said the scorching temperatures could burn the fruit, in addition to creating other problems that result in wrinkly skin. “You just hope the inside of the fruit doesn’t crack,” he said.
Humidity can also result in insect infestations that ravage fruit crops, which plagued some growers last year. “We’d rather have it hot and dry, not hot and humid,” Young said.
Windy weather on Friday. Credit: Eddie Jim
Bureau of Meteorology senior climatologist Jonathan Pollock said spring had been mostly dry until the downpours at the season’s end.
He cited bureau weather maps that showed November rainfall was above average or very much above average across East Gippsland and north-west Victoria after the late rain.
Pollock said the El Nino declaration remained in place, despite the wet end to spring.
While the January rain outlook was neutral, Pollock said February was expected to be drier than average. However, he said long-range rain forecasts were generally less accurate than temperature forecasts.
Stone fruit growers have been hoping for a break in the rain. Credit: Justin McManus
Mean temperatures were above average for much of Victoria throughout November, according to the bureau.
Fruit Growers Victoria grower services manager Michael Crisera said he still expected a dry summer, but the recent weeks had been surprisingly wet.
“It’s not a full-blown El Nino, that’s for sure,” he said.
Some farmers were investing in rain covers, Crisera said, with climate change creating more unstable weather.
Grain farmer Ryan Milgate has just finished harvesting lentils and will soon turn his attention to his wheat crop.
He recently received about 25 millimetres of rain at his farm, near Horsham, but others in the area had about 100 millimetres. He said each wet day increased the chance of crop quality downgrades and lower yields.
“The risk of downgrades is going up every day,” he said. “That’s really concerning.”
Our Breaking News Alert will notify you of significant breaking news when it happens. Get it here.
Most Viewed in National
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article