All quiet on the western front - mostly

29 Apr, 2011 04:00 AM
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Subsoil moisture is the talk of the northern Wheatbelt this year and farm worker Andrew King (left) and Binnu farmer Kyle Carson didn't have to dig too deep to find it during a break dry sowing canola last week.
Subsoil moisture is the talk of the northern Wheatbelt this year and farm worker Andrew King (left) and Binnu farmer Kyle Carson didn't have to dig too deep to find it during a break dry sowing canola last week.

AN eerie quiet enveloped large chunks of the State's Wheatbelt this week.

As the strains of The Last Post faded on Anzac Day, seeding rigs, traditionally sparked into action, remained mute.

Most signs of black smoke and sounds of straining tractor engines came from northern Wheatbelt and South Coastal areas where abundant subsoil moisture saw farmers galvanised into action to establish canola and oaten hay crops.

For the rest of the State it was a no-rain, no-show scenario.

Some farmers were hoping their properties would be recipients of isolated thunderstorm activity this week but there is creeping realism programs will probably have to change.

The likely scenario is reduced canola and lupin plantings in favour of wheat or barley because the prospect of rain within canola and lupin-planting windows, looks slim.

Confidence levels were high for Eradu farmer Peter Barnetson as his seeding rig rolled out for a 5700-hectare cropping program last week.

"We only have to go down 50mm to get into moisture so we're going in with Magenta wheat," he said.

"Our summer rain has totalled 210mm and it's right through the profile so it is shaping up well."

Pindar farmer Mark Flannagan said the presence of spur-throated locusts was threatening canola and lupin plantings.

"I've never seen such large numbers and I don't want to start planting and end up with the locusts eating germinating plants," he said.

"The other problem we've got is warm conditions.

"We've got subsoil moisture but it will dry out as soon as you put a tine in the soil.

"What we want is about 10mm of rain to connect to the subsoil and we're away."

At Yuna, Jeremy Brooks and his father Murray were dry seeding canola last week confident of good germinations from subsoil moisture which was present at a 50mm depth.

"The subsoil moisture is excellent because we got some good rain events over the summer months," he said.

"Sowing onto moisture will give us a germination so it does give you confidence you can set the crop up.

"We're planning to go with wheat after the canola, sowing in fallow country and onto lupin stubbles."

With a locust outbreak under control, Balla farmer Chris Johnson said the only problem was a wet-dry scenario in some paddocks.

"We think we've got the locusts under control but we're picking paddocks at the moment to avoid sowing lupins into wet-dry soil which will trigger false germinations," he said.

"We're in no rush and we'll wait until May to put the wheat in.

"All up we're planning a 4750 hectare program with canola going in when it rains."

At Binnu, father and son Murray and Kyle Carson were busy dry sowing canola last week.

The pair started their 7000ha cropping program on April 12 and like most farmers in the northern Wheatbelt area were happy with the subsoil moisture, courtesy of about 200mm of summer rain.

"We were lucky we got nine millimetres of rain on April 10 so it linked up with the subsoil," Kyle said.

"But we would prefer more rain to get good weed germination before we put in wheat."

In contrast farmers west of Esperance were happy with moisture conditions and in some cases, farmers were reluctant to discuss their programs because of too much rain being recorded on their properties.

Burracoppin farmer David Junk started dry sowing barley and oats last week but he wants more moisture to establish a 3000ha wheat crop.

"It's still early so I'm prepared to wait and see what happens with the weather," he said.

At Narembeen, local farmer Justin Fitch established oats last week for hay in what he described as dry conditions.

"We've had about 25mm for the year so far, including 6mm last Sunday night," he said.

"We've only got one machine and we're planning to put in between 6000 and 7000ha so we've got to get going."

East Hyden farmer Trevor Hinck also was looking at establishing feed hay on land that he described as bone dry.

"We've got no subsoil moisture and the guys in the district planning to sow canola have now shelved those plans," he said.

"There's more a risk management scenario happening now and rain will be the decider of what eventually goes in."

Those sentiments were shared by east Kulin farmer John Bowey who hasn't started what he hopes will be a 3000ha program.

"We'll have to start thinking about what we do by the end of this week because of timing," he said.

"We've had hardly any rain and it's what we need to lift confidence and keep communities together."

Fence-sitting marks the general Kulin, Bruce Rock and south Merredin areas.

According to Kulin farmer Lindsay Smoker, farmers are starting to think about dropping early-planned programs.

"It's the driest around here for many years and we've had no rain since January," he said.

"There's not a lot of excitement and it will be at least another two weeks before we start seeding."

East Esperance farmer Ashley Reichstein, Wittenoom Hills, said most farmers were waiting for rain.

"The only positive is sheep," he said. "They're in good condition despite dams drying up.

"We're planning to sow about 10,000ha, with 50 per cent of that cereals so we obviously want a good drop of rain.

"We've got some subsoil moisture but it has been hot and any working we do now will only dry up what we've got."

Gnowangerup farmer Brenton Hinkley spent last week "scratching in" 100 hectares of oats and clover for sheep feed but won't start the bulk of his program until the property receives more rain.

He has recorded about 21mm of rain on his property since the first week in April, including 8mm last weekend.

Of Brenton's 1400ha cropping program, about 200ha was planned for canola.

"If we don't get some more rain soon I'll drop out the canola altogether and sow more wheat and barley," he said.

The Lester family at Jerramungup established 650ha of canola last week on the back of 20mm of rain that fell on their Jacup block.

Another 8mm was recorded last weekend, sparking hopes of a good weed germination to clean paddocks before establishing wheat.

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