Worst frost 'in living memory' leaves farmers in limbo

GRIFFITH farmers are reeling from the most intense stem frost in living memory.

It has the potential to decimate profits if above average spring rains don't fall on the district.

Ag Grow consultant agronomist Barry Haskins said the outcome of this season was uncertain.

"The rain has definitely helped, it's a step in the right direction, but we need a lot more to offset the effects of the frost," Mr Haskins said.

"We need at least average spring rainfall to make these crops respond, hopefully coupled with mild temperatures."

Mr Haskins said he had clients who had been farming for generations who had never observed stem frost to this magnitude.

"We've got temperature loggers in paddocks and we've measured below minus five degrees for periods of four to five hours that's going to freeze anything," he said.

"In the past we haven't had the high intensity."

Mr Haskins said moisture and heat was needed to compensate for the lost tillers that were killed by the frost.

He said farmers in a 150 kilometre radius around Griffith had been affected.

Farmer Ken Burgess said he believed up to 50 per cent of his barley had been affected. "A couple of wheat paddocks are severely affected and one looks like it could be 80 per cent," he said.

"If you've got a plant with eight tillers, six of those eight stems that will produce the heads have been destroyed.

"What we don't know is how well the crop will recover because the plant may shut those stems down and will reshoot and send up fresh tillers."

Mr Burgess said there was the potential for an average crop if there was a soft spring, with plenty of moisture and it being "not too hot".

"We can determine fairly accurately how much damage is done now but we can't determine how it will affect us at harvest time because the heat and barley plant will have another crack."

Mr Burgess said the best outcome for the early crops that had been affected was an average result.

He said it was disappointing because without the frost, it would have been a well above average season.

"Either way it's cost us a lot of money, but the farmers could break even or be profitable," Mr Burgess said. "If we can get two more falls like we've just had, in two to three weeks and two to three weeks after that, these frosted crops will respond well."