22 November 2013

1931 - a golden harvest

The decade to 1931 had only produced two years where in excess of 600,000 bags of wheat had been harvested – and the last three harvests of the decade had struggled to achieve somewhere between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of that mark. 

This was all to change, with a boom harvest eventuating in the middle of the Great Depression.  It all came about in despite of the predictions, rather than in fulfillment of better days being ahead.

The opening of 1931 planting season brought gloomy tidings once more, thanks to the Sydney Morning Herald.  Under the heading, Wheat at Dubbo: Much Inferior Grain, the paper stated:

The recent rains have badly bleached the wheat, adding to the damage wrought by rust. Most farmers have harvested their best grain, and are now gathering the wheat which has been pinched by rust, which is mostly under f.a.q. (fair to average quality - ed). 

The rains will reduce the average acre yield, as some crops will not now be stripped which otherwise would have been harvested even if the grain was inferior. Feed is plentiful in spite of the grasshoppers. Seasonally the prospects are fair, but financially the prospects are not bright, as the returns will not pay the costs of production.

In the Dubbo silo 15,000 bushels of f.a.q. wheat were stored. It was then cleared and sent to the terminal elevators. The silo is now being filled with non-milling wheat, weighing from 59lb down to 56lb to the bushel.

District mills are not operating on the market, but are waiting the decision of the Federal Government and the Commonwealth Bank. No public effort is made to store inferior wheat, some being stored on farms for stock feed when dry conditions return. Unless some financial assistance is given much Inferior wheat will not be stripped. Growers are appealing for assistance by way of a guarantee.

The district silos show much greater returns than Dubbo itself. Eumungerie has received over 150,000 bushels, Gilgandra fully 200,000, and Talbragar over 60,000. It is estimated that the Dubbo police patrol district will yield over 37,000 bushels.

By late September 1931the Sydney Morning Herald was reporting an improved situation, though the wheat producing areas along the Coonamble line were lagging other western areas around Parkes. The newspaper’s reports from the relevant senior agricultural inspectors showed the difference:

In a report on crop conditions in that portion of the western district of which Parkes is the centre, Mr. Harold Bartlett, senior agricultural inspector, mentions that very opportune rains were registered last Saturday, and although the falls were somewhat light, varying from 40 to 85 points, the steady, calm conditions before and after the disturbance gave every point its full crop value.  The early sown and forward crops have every prospect of satisfactory grain development, but the later sown paddocks, of which the area is not great, require easy conditions until further rain...

In the opinion of Mr. B M Arthur, the senior agricultural inspector for the Dubbo district, the average yield there will probably not exceed 10 to 12 bushels per acre, and as the area under wheat does not exceed 50 per cent, of last season's total, the yield of grain for this portion of the western district will not be large in the aggregate.

September again proved comparatively dry and a good soaking rain of about an inch would have been extremely beneficial during the month. Only two light falls, ranging from 20 to 60 points, were registered on the 9th and 26th instant respectively over most of the district.

The first rainfall was of a cyclonic nature and was accompanied by hail in several localities. In the Gilgandra district a large amount of damage was reported through a strip of country several miles wide, where terrific hail and wind chopped many farmers' crops to pieces and absolutely ruined the season's prospects. The actual extent of the damage is not known at present; however, damage was done round Eumungerie, Curban, and other localities.

These small falls, though useful, have not been sufficient for the general requirements of the cropped area. Wheat planted after the cessation of the winter rains has not made much growth, and is not now likely to return a payable yield, as the required timely assistance has been too long delayed. Many crops are now well out in ear and some of the early-sown areas were seriously damaged by frosts. Others seen are filling their grain well, look healthy, and promise fair to good yields.

Within the month stem rust has been, noticed in some crops of susceptible varieties, mainly on the flag. Flag smut is also fairly prevalent in susceptible varieties, but as a large area of Nabawa has been sown losses due to this disease may not be severe.

Fallowing has been continued during the month in every direction, and Mr. Arthur considers that the total area now ploughed exceeds any previously carried out in the district.

Good October weather and rains brought the crop forward very nicely.  It meant that with greater optimism the Herald could report on 10 November 1931 that ‘six new silos (are) to be opened’ as part of the move to bulk handling of wheat.  Along with this move came a plethora of stern admonishments to growers, faithfully reproduced by the newspaper, about gaming the system.

Arrangements have now been completed in regard to the opening of the wheat silos during the coming harvest the wheat commissioner and manager of the grain elevators (Mr Harris) said yesterday that old season's wheat still remained in two of the country elevators, but the wheat in them had all been purchased by millers and delivery would be completed within the next few days. The balance of the 1930-31 wheat was carried in the terminal elevator.

The first elevators to be opened were at Curban and Gilgandra, which commenced receiving wheat yesterday, followed next Monday by Eumungerie.

Mr Harris advises farmers not to rush harvesting operations as green wheat will not be received into the elevators, and therefore no advantage will be gained by harvesting the wheat too early. Wheat should also be delivered in a clean condition in order that the standard of export wheat may be maintained

Growers are particularly warned against attempting to mix any old wheat with their deliveries of new wheat, as this will only necessitate the rejection of the whole parcel On no account will old wheat be accepted into the silos amongst new wheat, on account of its tendency to weevil thus endangering the safety of the whole contents of the bin.

Furthermore, under the Wheat Bounty Act growers will be called upon to lodge claims for the Commonwealth bounty of 4½ per bushel on this season's wheat, and any attempt to include old grain will make the claimant liable to a heavy fine.

Growers should also note that under the Federal Bounty Act it is only to the elevators that delivery of wheat can be made in the grower's own name, either for sale, or for storage pending sale, without the employment of an agent in all other cases, delivery has to be made to a flour miller, wheat merchant, or co-operative organisation.

Mr Harris added that an extraordinary demand had been made for bulk trucks for loading at non-silo stations.  Applications for these trucks should be made to the nearest Stationmaster, stating the date trucks were required for. 

Appearances pointed to a larger percentage of wheat being delivered in bulk this season than in any previous year.

At the start of the 1932 year the harvest was in full swing and the shortcomings of government and the railways were in full view of farmers and newspapermen.  On 6 January 1932 the Sydney Morning Herald reported under the byline of ‘Congestion at the Silos’ that there had been a huge increase in deliveries.  The size of the harvest was such that the Minister for Agriculture showed little collegiate sympathy for his ministerial colleague, the Minister for Railways, and his department generally.

The Minister for Agriculture stated yesterday that he was somewhat concerned at some very incorrect and misleading statements which had recently been made in regard to the wheat silos.

One allegation to the effect that when all the silos were filled farmers were advised by the Department of Agriculture to make bulk deliveries to sidings where there are no silos was absolutely incorrect. On the face of it, it was not only untrue but foolish.  It should have been evident that if the department was unable to remove wheat from the silo stations it would be equally unable to remove it from the non silo stations.

Mr Dunn declared that it was the function of the Railway Department to provide sufficient suitable trucks for the removal of the harvest.  It had been stated that the Department of Agriculture had refused to pay £3 each for the conversion of ordinary trucks into bulk wheat trucks.  This was quite correct and he was astonished at such a request being made by the railways.  His own department had no funds available to spend on railway rolling stock nor was it the function, of his department to make such provision.  That was the duty of the railways which must stand up to their responsibilities.

The Department of Agriculture received only a penny a bushel for wheat delivered from non silo stations and could therefore, hardly afford to pay £3 per truck- holding about 600 bushels when such converted truck might only make one trip during the remainder of the season.

So, the Department of Railways once again was being held responsible for the lack of foresight, at a time when no-one else had shown similar talents either – and certainly not senior members of the Department of Agriculture!

Moving to make it abundantly clear that the move to bulk wheat handling was not the cause of the delays at silos, Minister Dunn proceeded to declare that the farmers’ take-up of bulk wheat handling was the issue.

The Minister declared that the silo system, had shown wonderful results in efficient working during the extraordinary demand made upon it during the last few weeks. 

Two years ago the department was appealing to farmers to handle their wheat in bulk and at many stations where there were silos only about 50 per cent of the deliveries were made to them this year without any notification to the department of their change of intention wheat growers not only at the silo stations but at other stations were carting all their wheat to the silos and were expecting the system to receive an indefinite quantity of grain without the slightest congestion.

Minister Dunn had a fair point.  He noted that prior to the current harvest the second heaviest harvest on record was 13 322 000 bushels.  By 31 December 1931 the Government’s silos received 19 754 000 bushels - 50 per cent more than previous.  Interestingly, he noted that Eumungerie had recorded one of the largest increases – to 267,000 bushels.

Minister Dunn also reasonably observed that the receiving capacity of the country silos was governed by the ability of the Railway Department to remove the surplus wheat.  To conclude the expansive interview, Minister Dunn added that a statement that wheat rotting at silos was absolutely untruthful and was likely to ‘injure the reputation of this country abroad’!

Minister Dunn was proven correct, ultimately.  At nearly 602,000 bags, the 1931/32 harvest was the third largest on record for the Coonamble region.  Yes, the wheat entered a world market where prices were depressed and unlikely to provide a great return.  But the harvest showed the capacity of the area to produce quality harvests after a number of lean years.

Eumungerie itself provided nearly one-third of the volume, with 185,600 bags of wheat (or equivalent volumes of bulk wheat) being dispatched. Notably for the first time in a number of years the north of the line – Curban, Armatree, Gular and Coonamble itself – produced another third of the line’s harvest, so it was no longer just a Eumungerie/Gilgandra effort.