Broadacre farmers in Western Australia’s grain belt are facing lengthy delays for crop-dusting services, sparking “desperation” amid concern that crops will suffer in a year with record production potential.
- Thanks to a unseasonably wet winter causing significant water-logging across southern Western Australia, access paddocks via the ground is limited
- Farmers are also facing delays in securing aerial-application services to disperse fertiliser and chemicals on their crops
- Growers also fear they will not be able to capitalise on current record market conditions
Pilots say they are racing to clear up to four weeks of work spraying and fertilising paddocks, due to unprecedented demand caused by widespread waterlogging.
The wet conditions are posing significant challenges for farmers from Esperance to Northampton who traditionally rely on ground-based application.
John Young farms at Calingiri, 135 kilometres north-east of Perth in WA’s Wheatbelt.
He said he was facing the prospect of “significant yield loss” with his canola if he could not source a crop duster soon.
“We’ve had well-above-average rainfall, especially during July and the start of August, so we just can’t get on the ground,” he said.
“[The backlog for crop-duster services] has been of our design because ,in the dry years, we don’t use the spray operators, so they reduce their capacity and then we have a year like this where we all desperately want them.
“We expect them to just turn the tap on and that’s just not possible, because there’s a significant capital investment and workforce they need.”
Pilot: ‘We can hear the desperation’
Helispecs chief pilot Brent Nottage said he had knocked back work after only being able to fly a handful of days in July.
“I’ve probably turned away 35,000-40,000 hectares. I just said, ‘I can’t be there’, and ‘I can’t do it’,” Mr Nottage said.
“I’ve been offered all kinds of incentives to turn up … sometimes $10 a hectare more.
Mr Nottage said farmers who did not have aerial-application services locked in could miss out.
“Farmers won’t have crops sprayed, there’s a few planes over east available but no pilots to fly them and border restrictions are also a problem.”
Mr Nottage said he had lodged an application to allow more crew and an extra aircraft into the state from regional Queensland but the requests had been declined.
“[The West Australian government] won’t even look at bringing in other companies to give us a hand,” he said. “I’ve been trying for two to three weeks now, but it gets automatically rejected.”
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