Rain made little difference

27 Jul, 2006 07:00 PM
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A HEALTHY dose of rain last Friday and early this week has provided little more than slight relief for the majority of WA growers suffering from the drought.

While another cold front is expected to deliver more rain on Thursday or Friday, experts say it will make only a marginal difference because the damage has already been done.

Agriculture Department Katanning district manager Jon Glauert said this week's rain would help boost the state's cropping program, but the drought had already taken its toll on stock feed supplies.

Mr Glauert said the lack of stock feed was now regarded as the drought's critical issue.

The drought has already inflicted long-term damage on the state's agricultural industry, with the estimated annual harvest set to drop by at least 50pc.

Mr Glauert said the rain would give growers some hope of consolidating the potential yield of this season's annual harvest, but would create no change for the key issue of pasture and sheep feed.

"The real issue now is what feed will be available for sheep to eat in spring and summer," he said.

"If people decide to grow and cut hay it would depend on what yield potential exists for other crops, but we're still working through the problems."

Mr Glauert said farmers now needed to take a longer-term approach to managing the drought, in particular for stock feed supplies and pastures.

"Pastures are not going to grow because of the cold and low ground temperatures and spring is not likely to provide any opportunity," he said.

"Come September and October growers in most areas are going to be lucky to have any pasture at all, which means sheep feed is going to be in short supply on the ground.

"There are a lot of potential scenarios about harvesting crops or hay for sheep feed but it all depends on the type of seed planted, how much rain we get and how well it grows."

Mr Glauert said managing sheep welfare was an important issue and growers needed to reduce stock numbers to get the most from what little stock feed was available.

He said the Agriculture Department planned to counter wind erosion in summer when paddocks were most likely to be susceptible.

Mr Glauert said it was important for growers to manage ground cover and grazing programs to ensure maximum protection.

Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Bruce Buckley said another cold front was expected to deliver a good dose of rain later this week.

Mr Buckley said this week's rain would provide the South-West land division from Bunbury to Walpole with an estimated 30mm of rain but deliver between 5mm-10mm to the eastern and north-eastern agricultural regions.

Despite the latest rainfall, the state's records remain well below average.

At the time of going to print 64 of the 66 sample sites provided to Farm Weekly by John Refl at WA Climate Services Centre showed a negative departure from the monthly rainfall average for July.

In particular, the coastal town of Denham was 38.4mm short of its average 41mm while Cunderdin was 52.7mm short of its July average of 62.9mm.

Growers have been teased this season after healthy summer rains and record-high grain prices had taken them to the verge of what would have been a bumper harvest.

In some cases farmers got to within 10mm of reaching the long-awaited season break, only to be disappointed.

With most growers already deciding to stop seeding, this week's rain will have little meaning to those hit hardest by the drought.

Landmark WA agronomy manager Eddy Pol said the good rainfall would help increase confidence in the seasonal outlook as crops started growing, but he would be surprised if anyone was still seeding.

Mr Pol said he expected to see an increase in spending on weed control as growers started taking measures to protect what little crop there was.

"The size of the problem varies across the state," he said.

"The guys up north will be hoping for some ground cover and won't be spending any money on crops."

Mr Pol said Landmark agronomists were feeling the pinch of the drought with activity down on its normal levels for this stage of the season.

He said most agronomists had helped farmers with decision making in terms of the drought and helping to monitor weed control and disease.

"Activity has been quiet, but the Landmark agronomists are making themselves available for advice," Mr Pol said.

Landmark Wongan Hills agronomist Peter Bostock said WA's South-West land division needed a good soaking of rain to stimulate some pasture growth.

"This rain will enable enough plant growth to provide some ground cover to reduce risk of wind erosion," he said.

"In other areas it will provide some much-needed pasture and crop growth, but the lack of available feed for livestock would appear to be the greatest problem facing many farmers.

"Where crops have germinated and appear to have some potential, this rain will give growers more confidence to spend money on managing nutrition and weeds where required."

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