IN A YEAR with precious few Australian croppers enjoying a good season, Mother Nature appears to be showing a perverse delight in snatching further valuable tonnes from the national balance sheet in unusual ways.
Farmers in the Victorian Mallee could have been forgiven for being fairly happy with their lot in mid-November.
Barley crops had been yielding exceptionally well and although there was a catastrophic fire day with strong winds to endure it was only likely to represent a nuisance delay until croppers got back to the job at hand.
However, while there were mercifully few severe fire incidents in the state's cropping belt the howling wind wreaked havoc on standing crops, knocking grain from the head onto the ground, rendering it unharvestable.
The worst hit area appears to be from north of Donald through the Birchip area, where there are anecdotal accounts of farmers recording astronomic losses due to wind shaking grain on the ground.
Stories doing the rounds include crop yields that have been halved in the same paddock from before the wind to after, with 5 tonne to the hectare barley ending up 2.5t/ha.
Barley is the worst hit, while there have also been issues with canola and lentils.
Luckily it does not appear the damage has been sustained over the whole of the region, with farmers relatively nearby saying there was some grain on the ground but nothing out of the ordinary.
John Ferrier, Birchip Cropping Group chairman, said he had heard some bad stories.
"We were not impacted too badly here on barley, north of Birchip, but we have had some fairly substantial losses in canola," Mr Ferrier said.
"It appears there are a few factors at work, some areas had the really strong winds at just the wrong time with crops very ripe and the grain easily shaken out."
Mr Ferrier said several management factors had also unwittingly contributed to the losses.
"Some varieties of barley appear to be faring a lot worse than others in terms of a lack of head retention, while there have definitely been worse losses in the canola left to be direct headed as opposed to windrowed."
Mr Ferrier said he estimated a yield loss on his own property of around 0.5t/ha or around a third of what the canola was doing prior to the wind.
"From speaking to a few people it is definitely a bigger problem in standing, rather than windrowed canola, although there is a wide variation according to how long it had been down and how thick it was."
Further to the west, however, northern Wimmera farmer Daniel Keam, Wallup, said there had been no serious damage.
"There may have been a little bit shaken out but it was not too disastrous, we're fairly pleased with how the crops are coming off so far."
Kate Wilson, Woomelang, further north in the Mallee, said crop losses had been within normal ranges in her area as well.
"There have been some horrendous windy days and there's no doubt there is some barley on the ground but it is not anything that is outside what we see normally," Ms Wilson said.
She said yields in her area were solid, without being outstanding.
"We were set up for a really big year with good subsoil moisture but we just didn't manage to get that final rain that would have taken the year from good to outstanding.
"However, when you look what is happening to croppers in other parts of the country we really have little to complain about."
Farmers with barley on the ground with livestock may be able to partially recoup some of the losses by grazing the paddocks, but canola seed is generally too small for livestock to find.