By KEN WILSON and
UNSEASONAL rains in November and December has seen an unprecedented upsurge in summer crop plantings in WA of mainly forage sorghum and millet.
Seed suppliers have reported up to a doubling of demand for seed as farmers look to establish summer pastures for stock while aiming to reduce high water tables.
Some corn, sunflower and grain sorghum also has been planted, albeit in smaller areas, but the majority of plantings, mostly in south coastal and south eastern Wheatbelt areas is forage sorghum.
There is a smattering of summer crops planted in central and northern wheatbelt areas mainly in "wet spots" and ranging between five and 80ha.
Farm Weekly also has learnt of one farmer planting a small cotton crop in the eastern Wheatbelt.
Sowings of more than 100ha are more common in southern areas.
Seed suppliers Elders and Wesfarmers, Albany and Mt Barker's Seed Centre report heavy inquiries for grain and forage sorghum, miller and sunflowers.
Jumbo sorghum, a forage variety, was reported to be almost unavailable two weeks ago.
A spate of fine weather in the middle of this month enabled South Stirlings farmers John and Christine Howard and their plant operator Simon Wimbush to take the opportunity of the rain.
They established 60ha of sunflowers which they hope will provide some compensation for the 200mm of rain which fell on their property from mid-November to the first week of December.
John had sown 550ha of Gairdner barley and only a fraction of one paddock had been swathed before rain halted operations.
Fine weather on December 12 allowed the sorghum planting.
Narembeen farmers Colin and Tammy Steddy have established 20ha of corn and 20ha of sunflowers which is being purposely grown for sale.
According to Tammy it has been a perfect season for growing warn season crops in their area.
She knew of other farmers in Corrigin, Quairading and Esperance who also had planted sorghum mainly for sheep feed over summer.
Hyden farmer Rolf Meeking said his 200ha establishment of forage sorghum was for summer feed and also to control salinity.
"I think it's a one-off thing for us because I bare fallowed a paddock with subsoil moisture in August that was going to go into canola.
"I was hopeful of planting a summer crop and I got the chance with that November rain," he said.
Elders agronomist Bevan Addison said most summer crops had been established for summer feed.
"There isn't too much sheep feed around and the late rains have affected the quality of crop stubbles," he said. "So people have been keen to get something to grow for stock during the summer months and at the same time suck down a bit of water in the wetter spots."
Mr Addison said the vast majority of plantings occurred in the south eastern Wheatbelt and south coastal areas.
Pioneer Seeds WA area manager Stephen Addingbrook said his company had experienced a doubling of demand for forage sorghum seed.
"There's also a big demand for millet too," he said.
"We ran out of supplies in the middle of this month but we've got another shipment of seed so supplies are still available and the cut off date for sowing forage sorghum is the end of January."
Mr Addingbrook said farmers growing forage sorghum for the first time should be aware of potential toxicity problems for animals.
"We recommend you don't graze stock until the crop is between knee height and 1.5 metres for optimum digestibility, protein and fibre levels," he said.
"Anything less than knee height could be a danger to stock because of the prussic acid which occurs in the tips of the leaves when the crop is young.
"And if the crop comes under drought stress you get a build up of prussic acid so stock should be taken out of paddocks.
"You should allow seven days after rainfall before reintroducing stock and don't put anim als onto forage sorghum for the first time if they've got empty stomachs."
Meanwhile several major research trials will ensure continued interest in summer crops.
Pacific Seeds and Wesfarmers :Landmark, Albany will trial a crop of BMR sorghum which Pacific Seeds claims as a superior new variety.
And Fletchers International, Narrikup, will join Wesfarmers Landmark in a mid-January sorghum planting under irrigation on the abattoir site.