DESPITE gloomy skies and a diminishing seasonal outlook, spirits were high at the York Bowling Club last week as the farming gathered for the drought breakers' breakfast.
Organised by local farmer and community leader Peter Boyle, the event brought together farmers, family, friends and community and business leaders to eat, drink, socialise and digest free advice on how to handle the late season break.
The clouds hovering over York had delivered just enough overnight rain to put some farmers back on track with their seasonal seeding programs, but for others the small splash of rain helped maintain enthusiasm for the season ahead.
After the traditional BBQ breakfast, guest speakers delivered valuable and timely information to local farmers.
The information offered advice on strategies to help shape some important decisions that need to be made on cropping and agribusiness over the next few weeks.
While each speaker covered a different topic, they all delivered a common message about the importance of sharing problems and getting the most out of community resources in order to battle the dry conditions with a united front.
Special guest speakers included Agriculture Department grains industries development director David Bowran, Landmark WA agronomy and fertiliser manager Eddy Pol, Elders WA state banking sales manager Mike Walter, local agronomist Bill Roy and veteran ABC Radio sports reporter and commentator Wally Foreman.
The highlight of the morning was Mr Foreman's inspirational talk about the career of Australian athlete Cathy Freeman and the pressure she endured on the way to winning a gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
While Mr Foreman's talk centred on a rare form of sporting courage attributed to Ms Freeman, he also gave testimony to what he saw as real courage.
"Real courage is a policeman who upholds the law, or a soldier who fights for their country and farmers who place their livelihoods on the line year in, year out, while gambling with nature's elements," Mr Foreman said.
The former head of WA's Institute of Sport also spoke about the sense of community that enveloped regional WA, and in particular York and the surrounding areas.
"York is a very 'house proud' town," Mr Foreman said.
"When you drive up the main street, everything is so clean and tidy you know that you've entered a community where the people care about each other.
"What I love about towns like York is the overwhelming sense of community.
"When the town's got a problem they don't ask who or what the problem is - the town simply gets on with the job and fixes it."
Mr Foreman kept the crowd amused with many stories and anecdotes that lifted spirits.
The morning's other highlight was the talk given by Elders WA state banking sales manager Mike Walter.
Mr Walter gave an enthusiastic insight into the golden rules of dealing with the dry start to the season.
He emphasised the importance of communication and said there was plenty of advice available to farmers to help them get through the situation.
"Everyone in the country knows what to do when the going gets tough because we've been through it all before," Mr Walter said.
"We don't use the word drought because somewhere someone is listening and they may just believe it and start tightening the belt.
"A drought is five years without rain, and complete devastation of the land and many other things that we haven't seen happen as yet with this current situation or before it.
"We don't have droughts, we have dry starts to the season, and that's exactly what we're having this year.
"We've been through dry patches before and we've survived a lot bigger challenges over many generations.
"So if we've survived all that then we'll get through this for sure."
Mr Walter said farmers needed to address the real issues and formulate a method for handling the situation.
He said it was important for growers to recognise, as early as possible, the need to take responsibility for their own actions.
"Go back and look at your plan for the season, work out what to do and gather the technical advice you need to help make decisions," he said.
"Talk to your partners, talk to your family agronomists, accountants and other professionals.
"A problem shared is a problem solved. No one has to face this on their own.
"It works in all businesses and in family, so why not farming?"
Mr Walter said it was most important for farmers to maintain communication and to get updates on their situation, even if the news was not what they hoped to hear.
"If you get new information make sure you act on it accordingly, and most importantly, if you have a plan, do what you said you were going to do," he said.
"At the end of the day you need to generate more cash in and less out and there are a variety of ways to generate income."
In a humorous gesture Mr Walter presented a rain gauge and an umbrella to the farmers who knew the highest and lowest rainfall measurements for the season so far.
Agriculture Department grains industries development director, David Bowran, spoke informatively on reasons for the season's late break and its impact on soil moisture and other cropping conditions.
Mr Bowran said the amount of rainfall from now on would be a vital factor in farmer's final decision making, in particular for growers that had outstanding work on their annual cropping programs
The agronomy expert said it was vital that growers used the available time to plan, consider priorities, participate in community, engage with experts and use all available resources in order to strengthen their position.
Landmark WA agronomy and fertiliser manager Eddy Pol gave more specific technical advice for making decisions on whether or not to plant crops or pasture in certain paddocks.
Mr Pol said it was an ideal time for growers to consider resting certain paddocks for grazing and increasing nitrogen levels.
He said time should also be taken to rationalise crop variety and seeding rates in light of the current situation.
"Fertiliser decisions, weed management and knock-down rates are also important factors to be considered," Mr Pol said.
"Farmers will need to consider a wide range of factors, including matching fertiliser rates to yield potential, stored soil moisture, phosphorus soil tests and mineralisation levels from nitrogen produced by summer rains."
Mr Pol emphasised that dry conditions were capable of producing tough weeds, meaning farmers had to seriously consider what was happening underneath the soil on their properties.
Local agronomist Bill Roy gave valuable advice on how growers could set about achieving minimum break-even yields for their cropping programs.
Mr Roy said there was no need for local growers to panic, but instead, should compare rates to the 2000 season when heavy summer rain was followed by a late season break.
Despite the adverse conditions that made it hard to get seeding programs started, only 12pc of crop was sown prior to June 12, but the late rain break resulted in a full program for most farmers in the region.