Although most farmers have celebrated the recent rains, for some, it has come at a cost.
- Extended wet and windy conditions increase disease pressure in crops
- South Australian company Aerotech is backlogged for weeks
- Farmers are experiencing delays of up to three weeks, and worry the damage may already be done
For crop farmers relying on aerial spraying, the recent rains and winds have made it impossible for companies like Aerotech to get into the air and spray fungicide at crucial times.
Lower Eyre Peninsula farmer Mark Modra said bad weather added to an already huge job list for Aerotech and farmers were now experiencing a backlog.
Mr Modra, who has crops at Green Patch, Edillilie and Cummins, said this was the second year they had missed out.
“I’ve had stuff in the system for up to three weeks and it’s got to the stage where I’ve had to cancel some of my work because it’s too late, the damage has been done,” he said.
Mr Modra said unless fungicides were preventively sprayed before any sign of disease there was a high chance farmers would suffer the consequences.
Grain prices had been high, which meant farmers were doing everything they could to secure strong yields.
“Everyone’s wanting to throw the kitchen sink at our crops to make sure that we get good yields, so a miss like this will have substantial economic impacts,” he said.
“At worst case, I would say 60 to 80 per cent losses in perhaps some legumes … hopefully nowhere near those levels, but there will be some loss,” Mr Modra predicted.
‘We want to be in the air spraying’
Aerotech is South Australia’s largest aviation company and provides aerial crop spraying for farmers across the state.
Aerotech chief pilot Danny Allen is based in Arthurton on the Eyre Peninsula and said the delays were purely weather-related.
“We’re sitting around day after day ready to go — it’s frustrating us as much as it probably is the farmers,” Mr Allen said.
Although the rain was welcomed, Aerotech had only secured four spraying days in the past two weeks.
“We’ve got jobs booked in from basically Nudroo over the West to Loxton in the East. We haven’t had a season like this since 2010,” he said.
“We don’t want to be sitting around, we want to be in the air spraying.”
Farmers prematurely logging work after hearing about waiting times may also be applying unnecessary pressure to the system.
“I guess it’s a bit like the toilet paper in Woolworths — once someone hears that there’s a bit of a shortage then there can be a bit of a panic,” Mr Allen said.
Aerotech asked farmers to be patient this year as they tried to manage the situation.
“It’s our livelihood too, so we want to get as much done as we possibly can … so, yeah, we’re trying our best,” Mr Allen said.
Mid North and Yorke Peninsula agronomist Craig Davis said the full impact of extended wet conditions and delayed fungicide spraying would depend on crop resistance and upcoming weather.
“There’s a significant amount of pressure of sclerotinia down the lower Eyre Peninsula and it’s a bit of a concern because it probably normally rears its head when it’s warmer, but there’s obviously something locally going on there,” Mr Davis said.
The threat of seasonality with some diseases is not new, but the move towards higher yield varieties that have lower resistance may play a role in how the season turns out.
“You could be talking up to 20 per cent yield loss in a susceptible variety,” Mr Davis said.
Mr Modra said if the delays continued he would need to look at other options.
“Whether there are other companies that do fly-on ag products, or whether we try and get in earlier and do it ourselves preventively, or whether we look at getting a plane ourselves,” he said.
“I don’t know, but we can’t keep going down this path for ourselves. It’s just not a lot of fun, to be honest.”