It’s wait and see for crop timing

Clifton grain producer Layton Free is optimistic his late corn crop will benefit from the recent deluge, however is uncertain of the fate of his early sorghum.
Clifton grain producer Layton Free is optimistic his late corn crop will benefit from the recent deluge, however is uncertain of the fate of his early sorghum.

CLIFTON grain producers, Layton and Sharalyn Free, are adopting a "wait and see'' approach to their summer crop in the wake of the recent relentless wet weather.

While historically the rainfalls of recent weeks were tremendous, Mr Free believes the damage to feed and grain crops won't be known until the headers are in the paddocks.

The Frees, trading as Colliery Park Pty Ltd, farm a total of 1214 hectares south of Clifton and their early planted sorghum crop has shot, leaving them wondering what price they will get come harvest time.

The grain industry hasn't got the margins in it that it used to have, and when the cocky is on his knees, the whole community struggles.

Mr Free said they were "down a bit" in their area of crop planted, with about 242ha of early sorghum planted in the first half of October last year, and another 242ha of corn planted late during the first week of January.

"They were the only two planting opportunities we had really," he said.

"Things aren't looking great, and there's going to be issues but many crops on the eastern Downs will probably be okay, however from Pittsworth west, blokes have sprayed out their sorghum and it's just standing in water.

"The international market for sorghum was relatively strong and many Western Downs farmers had booked their grain to go on the boats.

"It's hard to say, but a lot of it (grain) will be downgraded."

Mr Free estimated about 70 per cent of the sorghum crop on the Darling Downs was early, and a lot of it would be affected in an adverse way.

However, on a personal note, Mr Free has forward sold some of his sorghum on a feed basis, but still believes buyers will want discounts.

Trying to remain optimistic, he feels growers will have to wait until the headers start moving before they know just how damaged the crops are.

"We were extremely lucky this time around in the floods, as we had no crops under water, as Spring Creek wasn't at a very high level," he said.

"Our late corn will be benefitting from this recent rain, and the opportunities for winter crops are looking good, as there is good sub soil moisture."

Discounts now are the issue, according to Mr Free, as he feels weather damaged sorghum will be discounted an average of $20 per tonne.

"Feed 1 sorghum is selling for about $250/t at the moment, but how do you know. It's still an unknown quantity," he said.

"The end users are short of feed grain, so that may help stabilise prices a bit.

"One positive is that there is not an oversupply of grain at the moment."

Mr Free said he used some of his home grown grain in the family's cattle enterprise, feeding up to 70 head on grain at times.

"We run a total of 400 head of cattle, but mainly as a trading enterprise," he said.

"We also operate a contract harvesting business, which depends on demand."

Mr Free made the decision not to plant all his country with sorghum as a form of risk management.

"I felt it was too late to plant sorghum, and wanted to stay away from the ergot problem, as corn doesn't have that," he said.

"As far as winter crop goes, I'm still deciding what to plant for feed and what for grain production."

Mr Free said he was aware of many farmers in the local area who were very "down'' in mood at present, due to the prospects of losing their crops.

"Some feel, though, that they are still in with a chance, but there are still a lot of unknowns at the moment," he said.

"I know people say there's a lot more money to be made out of mud than dust, but the flood events of the last three years have cost a lot of people a lot of money.

"A lot of primary producers have worn fairly thin, both financially and emotionally, over the last few years.

"The grain industry hasn't got the margins in it that it used to have, and when the cocky is on his knees, the whole community struggles."

Mr Free is trying to stay positive, but is also realistic.

"We will lose a lot of grain due to sprouting, and I don't know what the downgrading will be like, but it could get a whole lot worse… if Cyclone Sandra comes down the coast with more drenching rain,'' he said.

Topics:  grain, planting, sorghum, summer crops



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