19 Apr, 2006 08:45 PM

A glimpse of better days ahead

WA graingrowers will start the 2006 season next Tuesday, Anzac Day, confident of at least matching last year's near record 12.5 million tonnes production.

Last year there was no summer rain and there was a dry July and bad frosts in August and September.

Yet the season ended as the second biggest on record behind a 2003-04 effort of 14.7 million tonnes.

This year there is a spring in the step of growers knowing that summer rains have filled subsoil profiles on the heavier land and grain prices are looking more positive, with at least one farmer hedging out to 2008.

Summer spraying programs have been a costly but necessary component of setting up crops and most farmers will be content with a traditional break to the season later this month to set up wheat plantings in May.

Beaumont farmer Bill Tiller summed up a lot of reactions by farmers saying the season looked promising.

"Grain prices look good," he said.

"And while the long range weather forecast is not that flash, we've got good subsoil moisture on the back of those cyclones so we're thankful for that.

"I've bought another farm so we're up to 15,000 acres (6075ha) this year and I'll be ready to start next week."

Nungarin farmer Ron Creagh also was happy with summer rain.

"Since the start of the year we've had eight inches (203mm) in the old language and while we've had a heavy summer weed problem to cope with there's lots of positives with the good subsoil moisture profile," Mr Creagh said.

"It's money in the bank on our heavy soils.

"We've bought more land so we've increased our program and we're pretty confident.

"We're also doing a bit more hedging on higher prices and some of our forward marketing is out to 2008 so hopefully that will compensate for our higher fertiliser and fuel prices."

Mr Creagh also is a starter on Anzac Day, putting in lupins.

Landmark Geraldton agronomist Grant Thompson said most early seeding activity would occur on heavier soils holding subsoil moisture.

"There's a lot more positivity about the season which I would describe as cautious optimism," Mr Thompson said.

"Lupin plantings should start around Anzac Day but most farmers will prefer another shower so they can sow in wetter conditions.

"If there's a good break I would expect a bit more land to go into crop."

Fellow agronomist Phil Smyth, Esperance, said the aftermath of cyclonic activity during the summer had left soil profiles full of moisture.

"There are a couple of guys out east who have started sowing canola and I know another farmer at Scaddan who also has started sowing canola," Mr Smyth said.

"I think by Anzac Day there will be a lot of activity with canola and barley going in.

"The feeling is that there might be more canola grown down here this year.

"By May most guys will want to be into wheat."

Landmark Merredin agronomist Gavin Thomas said farmers were looking forward to a more positive year.

"Last year was pretty tough and frost belted a lot of crops," Mr Thomas said.

"But this year we've got a good subsoil moisture profile and guys are on top of summer spraying, even though it has been a major headache.

"But I don't think there will be too many expanding programs because of conservative budgets."

Elders Carnamah agronomist Dave Scholes said farmers in his district had already established pastures and a few had started lupin and canola programs.

"There's a very positive mood and I think the subsoil moisture has given guys a lot more confidence with the lupins and canola," Mr Scholes said.

"But everybody will be waiting for a good shower later this month to wet up the topsoil."



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