Rebecca Zentveld, of Zentveld’s coffee in Byron Bay, is hoping that dryer weather will enable tractors to get out for harvesting.
Rebecca Zentveld, of Zentveld’s coffee in Byron Bay, is hoping that dryer weather will enable tractors to get out for harvesting. Jay Cronan

Weather a wet blanket for crops

REBECCA ZENTVELD has great hopes for this year's coffee crop on the Northern Rivers – assuming the farmers can pick it.

Ms Zentveld, whose coffee company relies on the beans grown on more than 20 Northern NSW farms, said this year's crop was shaping up as a ripper.

But persistent wet weather has put coffee farmers at risk of being unable to get tractors out for harvesting once the coffee bushes bear fruit – a problem many of the region's macadamia nut growers are facing now.

It's not quite the wave of agricultural optimism described in rural lender Rabobank's latest Rural Confidence Survey yesterday, but Ms Zentveld was not the only one with the view farmers were headed for a fantastic year or serious trouble.

Bangalow-based stone fruit farmer and president of the Low Chill stone fruit growers group Ray Hick said the potential was there for an exceptional year for growers.

But a raft of unknowns in the weather – including a few persisting from last year's soggy spring – meant there was just as much potential for things to go very bad, he said.

One issue was farmers did not know how much damage last year's persistent wet weather had done to the roots of their fruit trees. Damaged trees can die from the strain of trying to produce this year's crop and it is impossible to tell which ones could die until it was too late.

Stone fruit growers also faced the risk of frosts killing off their crops before they had a chance to grow and of a wet and gloomy spring similar to last year's again denying their fruit the sunlight it needed to thrive.

The Radobank survey of 1200 farmers from across the nation and across rural sectors found the number of those expecting conditions to improve had fallen from 48% in April to 42% in May. However, the lower figure still put rural confidence at its highest level since 2001.

Interestingly, given the recent turmoil in that sector, dairy was listed as one of the areas with the highest confidence levels.

That did not surprise dairy farmer and Lismore councillor Peter Graham, who said a high world price for milk, fuelled by a planet-wide shortage, meant milk exporters were doing well.

However, that did not help Northern Rivers dairy farmers caught in a market focused on domestic liquid milk supply and prey to the pricing whims of supermarkets.

One sector unambiguously thriving here is beef.

Auctioneer Kevin Cocciola said conditions might be grim were local farmers fattening their own stock, but the Northern Rivers' beef industry was geared towards cattle breeding and there were plenty of cow cockies in western NSW and Victoria buying up stock in the wake of bumper rains.

Getting better all the time

Farmers who believe Australia’s agricultural economy will improve over the next year*:

  • Grain 37%
  • Beef 40%
  • Sheep 47%
  • Dairy 51%
  • Sugar cane 29%
  • Cotton 64%

* SOURCE: Rabobank Rural Confidence Survey

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