Has 2020 been the best year ever? If you're a grain grower, maybe

Harvest is in full swing across the Murraylands, and yields, quality and prices are all high.

This story was originally published behind Murray Bridge News’ paywall. Paywalled stories are unlocked four weeks after publication. Can’t wait that long? Subscribe here.

A bumper grain crop may be the silver lining we all needed at the end of 2020.

With the harvest about halfway through in the Murraylands, yields and quality have been high, according to both Primary Industries and Regions SA and grain handling company Viterra.

Combine that with relatively high prices and Christmas was looking “really, really good”, said Viterra’s regional operations manager, Jo Klitscher.

“The crops are doing fantastically, pricing being up and yields being up,” she said.

“When we were seeing the season finish, we were thinking proteins were going to be low and barley wouldn’t be malting grade, but we’ve seen lots of malting (barley) and lots of hard wheat.

“It has been a nice end to 2020 for growers.”

At the company’s Tailem Bend facility, trucks loaded with wheat, barley, canola and faba beans have been steadily rolling in for the past month from as far away as the Riverland and Victorian border.

Samples are taken from each truck as they arrive, classed according to quality, and drivers directed to the appropriate bunker in a maze of them west of the town and north of the train line.

By last Sunday, almost 700,000 tonnes of grain had been received at Viterra sites across eastern South Australia, including 260,000 tonnes last week alone.

Tailem Bend was already at about 50 per cent capacity, Ms Klitscher said – “we’re going to get really close to being chockers” – but there was room to set up extra scrape bunkers if needed.

About 150 staff have been working for Viterra at Tailem over two shifts, receiving grain harvested and transported by thousands more people across the region.

Truck driver Warren Paterson was already dropping off his second load of barley for the day when Murray Bridge News caught up with him on Thursday morning, and still had to drive to Victoria and back to Port Adelaide before day's end.

The quality was good everywhere he’d gone, he said.

Only around Yumali, where fire burned several thousand hectares of crops last month, are growers likely commiserating.

Prices upwards of $260 per tonne for APW1 wheat, and $200/t for BAR1 barley, were available at Tailem Bend at the time of publication.

Some of the grain stored there will be exported by the shipload, while some will be sold to feed lots truck by truck.

Viterra’s Jo Klitscher oversees receivals at Tailem Bend and more than a dozen other sites across eastern South Australia. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

State harvest will be fourth-biggest on record, PIRSA says

Primary Industries and Regions SA highlighted its expectations of above-average yields in the Murraylands in its latest crop and pasture report, published last Thursday.

The lower Murray, southern Mallee and upper South East were expected to contribute about 18 per cent of a bumper state harvest of 8.8 million tonnes across all crops, PIRSA said.

Temperatures and rainfall were both higher than average in the Lower Murray and western Mallee throughout the growing season.

Rainfall had delayed the start of the harvest and damaged hay in most local districts, but production was generally expected to match the positive outlook for South Australia as a whole.

Yields in this part of the state were actually likely to surpass the record 2016-17 harvest, state Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister David Basham said.

“Many of our state’s primary producers have been and are still doing it tough, but it is positive to see such a large harvest in South Australia,” he said.

PIRSA estimated the economic value of this year’s harvest at $2.4 billion.

Viterra’s Melissa Stokes weighs trucks as they leave Tailem Bend and head back out to farms across the Murraylands and Mallee. Photo: Peri Strathearn.