FROSTS have wiped as much as $180 million from the value of Victoria’s winter crop.
That’s the early estimate from the Victorian Government after the late spring snap ripped across western and central Victoria this month, causing extensive damage to wheat and legumes.
Some Western District growers have reported their whole crops being destroyed just weeks from what was shaping up as a bumper harvest. The worst frost hit on November 4.
Agriculture Victoria’s southwest grains regional manager Rob O’Shannessy estimated farmer losses from the frosts at $100-$180 million. This included frost damage this month, as well as earlier, smaller frosts in the North East and northern Wimmera.
The figure is expected to climb once losses for Grampians and Pyrenees wine grapes and Swan Hill stonefruit are factored in.
Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford is expected to meet with farmers from frost-affected areas in western Victoria tomorrow.
Mr O’Shannessy said the worst-affected area from this month’s frosts was a region bordered by Tatyoon, Lake Bolac, Skipton, St Arnaud, Kaniva, Warracknabeal and Stawell.
“Damage ranges from 10 per cent of affected crop to 100 per cent wipe-out, depending on topography, moisture and a range of other issues,” Mr O’Shannessy said.
“The frosts have been a cruel blow to growers when they were rightly thinking that they were close to harvest and to getting very good yields.”
Scott Blurton, who farms at Westmere and Streatham, estimated about half of his wheat crop was a complete write-off, but said he was fortunate as “some to the north of us have lost 90-100 per cent of their whole crop, it just got so much colder up there”.
“It’s a real kick in the guts this late in the season, as all the money is spent … we were looking at above-average crops,” Mr Blurton said.
About 150 affected growers attended a Victorian Farmers Federation frost meeting last week at Tatyoon. VFF spokesman and Ararat farmer Charlie de Fegely said the meeting was a chance for farmers to discuss the impacts of the frost and find out about services available.
“We don’t know the full extent of the impact yet,” Mr de Fegely said. “There was a fair amount of shock when it first happened, but now there is a bit more acceptance.”
Another meeting is planned for the Kalkee Footy Club on Friday at 8am.
Streatham farmer Ed Weatherly estimated the frosts had destroyed “at least a third” of the value of his family’s crops.
“But we’re luckier than some. There are some real horror stories out there,” Mr Weatherly said. “A lot of the red wheat is gone; crops that won’t produce any grain at all.”
Mr Weatherly is cutting much of his frost-hit cereals for hay, but said the hay market was depressed.
Gorst Rural agronomist Ash Maconachie said older farmers in the region claimed it was “the worst (frost) since 1977”, when a bad, late-season frost also hit potentially high-yielding crops.
“This time, it didn’t seem to matter what stage the wheat was at, flowering or three-quarters to grain-fill, damage has been done,” Mr Maconachie said.
“But as the days go by, this frost is proving to have done more damage than what we thought.”
He said the true impact of the frosts on crops, and farmers’ bottom lines, would not be known until after harvest.
“That will probably be the hardest time for people, after harvest when they sit down and do their sums and realise how bad it has been,” he said.
Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke estimated he had lost $600,000 worth of chickpeas and lentils from the frosts on his farm at Murra Warra, near Horsham.
He said the late frosts followed an irregular weather pattern this season.
“The dry winter, late downpours, late spring frosts and a lot of mice — it hasn’t been a standard year by a long shot,” Mr Jochinke said.
“The cruellest part about this frost is it didn’t come in a drought, it came when things were looking decent … the severity, timing and fact that the season was looking so good is the heartbreaking part of it.”
Meanwhile, Tom Guthrie from Grampians Estate Winery at Willaura said the frost had wiped out “several millions” of dollars worth of potential wine sales from the region.
“Our vineyard is relatively small, but 100 per cent is gone — frosted,” Mr Guthrie said.
“That’s about $50,000 worth of grapes, but the impact is tenfold. It could be $500,000 worth of wine we won’t have for sale down the track.”
But Mr Guthrie remained optimistic. “There’s always next year,” he said.
The fallout from the frost came as farmers were subject to unseasonable heavy rain last week, causing some damaging to crops nearing harvest, but helping pasture growth in other areas.
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