Cereal statistics paint a grim picture

The statistics from “Belgium” at Howlong are depressingly similar to so many others in southern NSW and regional Victoria after recent frosts slammed cropping country west of the Great Dividing Range.

Wheat crop: 85 per cent ruined and only fit for hay;

Canola: 100 per cent wipeout;

Barley: Looks to be safe.

But as heartbreaking as those statistics are Richard Baker, who runs the property with his brothers Peter and Paul and dad Barry, is matter-of-fact about the situation.

“It’s not easy to accept, but it’s farming,” he said.

“We are now cutting about 600 hectares of wheat and all of our canola for hay.

“We made the decision to cut 120 hectares of wheat immediately after the frost and the rest of that we are cutting four days later.

“Across the region more damage is becoming apparent than was first thought.

“People can be a bit naive but the full extent of what has happened is now hitting home.”

Richard said their cause was not helped by the fact their crops were sown a bit later than others and their ground was flat.

“However, because of that the effect of the frost becomes apparent much quicker,” he said.

“There is going to be a glut of hay on the market but farmers need the money and will have to take what they can, although you are not going to sell it if you don’t get more for it than what it cost you to make.

“Before the frost, cereal hay was selling for about $160 tonne but we’ll just have to see what price it will bring now.”

The Bakers are not running any livestock at the moment and normally that would leave them in a situation with all their eggs in the one basket.

But apart from Belgium Seeds, the family also owns a grain storage facility, Baker Grain Storage, which stores grain for major corporation Cargill, and a grain transport business.

“We run five trucks and although there won’t be much grain to cart we also have trailers for carrying hay,” Richard said.

“Which is handy because we will be looking at transporting hay up to northern NSW and southern Queensland.

“But another downside is we have just bought two new headers. At least we will have something to harvest I suppose.”

Rivalea on board for amaizeing harvest


Maize farmers Richard and Peter Baker with their maize crop.

It might look like corn, smell like corn, feel like corn and some people might even call it corn but those mountainous skyscraper plants springing up all around the region are actually maize.

“It’s real name is maize but in some countries they also call it corn, depending on what it is used for,” Richard Baker said.

And Mr Baker should know, as he and his father Barry, mum Penny and brothers Peter and Paul farm 550 ha of the crop on their 2630 ha property Belgium, just outside of Howlong.

The Bakers also grow wheat, canola and lucerne, on a bigger scale, but decided about 10 years ago to give maize a go.

“We were looking for a summer crop to utilise our irrigation,” Mr Baker said.

“It is very costly to grow because it uses a lot of fertiliser because it grows so big, so fast.

“We get twice the yield that we do get for wheat but maize has twice the inputs.

“It usually trades at about $20 a tonne above the price of wheat but we end up with about a similar margin.”

Mr Baker said the family did grow maize for human consumption originally but decided to move to a new variety as part of their crop rotation.

“The crop they call corn is usually for human consumption and is a variety called grit, which is what is in Corn Flakes and that,” he said.

“We try to double crop, that is, put in wheat, harvest it and then put maize in, but as grit takes longer to grow than the variety we plant we don’t use it.

“Ours is mainly for stock feed and a little bit of that ends up for export; something which has only started in the last couple of years.”

The family business, called Belgium Seeds, sells mainly to feed mills in Melbourne but has now found a market closer to home.

“Rivalea in Corowa bought our maize for the first time this year and we will be selling over 50 per cent of our crop to them,” Mr Baker said.

“We get a better price in Melbourne but we don’t have the same transport costs (we had).

“And it means we can harvest and dry it in our big dryer one day and deliver it to Rivalea the next; we don’t have to store it.”

The Bakers current crop was put in during December and will be harvested at the start of May.

“You don’t need specialised equipment to harvest it, just a conventional header with different front on it, called a corn front,” he said.

“Maize is neither good nor bad when it comes to the effect it has on soil.

“A few people over the last two or three years have started to get into it, so it is growing in popularity.

“But our crop won’t get any bigger because we are pretty much maxed with the water situation and maize can only grow in the summer; it won’t grow in winter.”