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Wednesday, 16 December 1992
Page: 5251

Senator FERGUSON (8.10 p.m.) —I am conscious of the hours that the Senate has been sitting. I will be very brief and speak for a only few minutes. I rise to speak on a matter of grave concern affecting South Australia's farming community, particularly grain growers.

  South Australian Farmers Federation President, Mr Tim Scholz, spoke on South Australian regional radio today about the disaster facing many farmers because of the continuing unseasonal weather which has seen returns for the grain harvest in South Australia decimated in many areas.

  The effect of drought and its associated hardships are well publicised and documented, but at least in a period of drought primary producers have the opportunity to prepare themselves and, to some degree, manage their ongoing costs and outlays.

  South Australian farmers today have been through a period of record winter and spring rainfall and so most areas were expecting above average to record yields from both grain and legumes. They outlaid extra finance for sprays not normally needed for weed control and crop diseases. Many farmers also purchased new machinery and equipment to cope with a bumper harvest.

  But the unprecedented and extreme wet weather has seen their optimism turn to disaster. The continuing wet weather—far in excess of what could be expected—has delayed harvesting, resulting in shot grain and impossible harvesting conditions. Wheat delivered by farmers with more than one per cent of the grain shot has been downgraded from milling grade to stock feed grade.

  Most of the wheat harvest on the Eyre Peninsula and other areas normally falls into two categories, Australian standard white or hard, which this year are worth $154 and $168 a tonne respectively. But feed grain put in the general pool is now worth only $135 a tonne. This means the return to growers in some cases can be below the cost of production.

  Mr David Lewis, an agronomist with the Department of Primary Industries in Cleve, has had reports from silo staff on Eyre Peninsula that up to 99 per cent of grain receivals are being downgraded. Some wheat has been completely rejected at the silo delivery point and has to be taken back to the property having no current commercial value.

Senator Brownhill —It is devastating to the people.

Senator FERGUSON —Yes, it is devastating. The estimated loss to individual farmers on Eyre Peninsula because of this weather damage is in excess of $40,000 per farmer. This comes at a time when ABARE is predicting the average Australian broadacre farmer will lose $25,700 this financial year.

  Today Mr Scholz estimated the total direct cash loss to grain growers on Eyre Peninsula alone to be $70m. This does not take into account the losses from districts where the grain harvest has scarcely commenced due to the continuing wet weather. The multiplier effect on the State's economy is three to four times. Therefore, we are looking at a disaster of devastating proportions.

  The effect on the viability of farmers who have been struggling to survive and whose confidence had been boosted by good rainfall is that they will be placed in an even more precarious position. In addition to the wheat harvest, most of the State's barley crop has been downgraded and the Australian Barley Board says the continual rain has affected malting quality in barley deliveries.

  Legume crops have been either wiped out or are at least returning much lower yields. Faba beans and peas are not worth harvesting in many cases and vetch has been affected by rust and other diseases. Farmers on northern Eyre Peninsula and the northern Mallee have been badly affected by a series of crop diseases, including haydie and stem, stripe and leaf rust.

  Dr Alan Dube, head of the Department of Primary Industries plant pathology unit, says that haydie—a fungus that thrives in wet conditions—is threatening to wipe $60m worth of grain off the State's cereal crops this year. The weather has also put at risk the grape harvest and the fruit and vegetable harvests.

  In 1987, during an extremely difficult period for farmers across the State, the South Australian Farmers Federation conducted a two-day phone-in for farmers. The survey confirmed that farm families were suffering from significant psychological and physical problems as a result of the stress they were under.

  Today Mr Scholz said that recent anecdotal evidence suggests that stress levels amongst members of the farming community are likely to be extremely high again as a result of the virtual collapse of prospects because of the unseasonably wet conditions. He also said:

In many respects, this year will be much worse than a drought year . . .

He said that farmers:

. . . have been looking forward to one of the best years in many to help reduce their debt levels and claw their way back to profitability. Their hopes have been dashed and the effects of the disappointment will be enormous.

I understand that the South Australian Farmers Federation is meeting with the Premier and his Primary Industries Minister shortly and I urge the State and Federal governments to consider and respond to any calls for assistance from rural South Australians in the face of this disaster over which they have no control.