A WELCOME rain system over the weekend has provided the break to the season for the majority of WA's Wheatbelt.
Spraying and seeding rigs have well and truly kicked into action in the northern and central parts of WA's grain-growing region but activity in areas along the southern coast and western districts has mostly slowed as growers wait for meaningful rain.
It was only a matter of days ago that experts warned growers who had taken to their paddocks with air seeders to plant long-season canola varieties to be mindful because there was no serious rain on the horizon until later this month.
But all that changed thanks to substantial falls in some parts of the Wheatbelt on Saturday and Sunday nights.
Falls of up to 72 millimetres (Quairading) were received, while other districts such as Newdegate (69mm), Kondinin (68mm), Corrigin (67mm), Bolgart (53mm), Cunderdin (50mm), Tammin (47mm), Mullewa (48mm), Lake Grace (45mm), Bonnie Rock (36mm), Northampton (35mm) and Bowgada (34mm) also received significant rain to kick-start 2014/15 seeding programs.
The scattered showers also produced a positive result for growers in regions such as Eradu (25mm) and Trayning (22mm) as well as Latham and Wongan Hills (20mm), Lake King and Kojonup (15mm), Merredin and Bencubbin (13mm), Wagin (12mm) and Katanning (10mm).
But it was no break of the season for growers on the South Coast, who will hope for further rain in the days and weeks to follow.
Only 7.6mm was recorded at Salmon Gums over the weekend, with 5.8mm recorded at Wellstead and 2.8mm at Condingup.
The Bureau of Meteorology released an update to its seasonal climate outlook for May to July last week which suggested the chances of southern and western WA exceeding its median rainfall during May, June and July was greater than 60 per cent.
It also said the El Nino-Southern Oscillation remained neutral, but was in a state of transition towards El Nino.
Sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean to the south of Australia were warmer than normal and were generally expected to remain warm through the forecast period.
The outlook said the warmer waters to the west of the continent might lead to increased evaporation and cloudiness and therefore a wetter than normal outlook for parts of the west.
The bureau's National Climate Centre senior climatologist Catherine Ganter said the outlook for May to July was quite positive for WA's grain growing regions.
She said the outlook had indicated a 55pc to 75pc chance of above average rainfall over the South West land division and there was hope for further significant falls.
"Naturally we're starting to reach the wetter time of year, with May to August historically being the wettest months in WA's cropping belt," she said.
"The weekend's weather was driven by a trough which sat over the State and that is what seems to be feeding in the moisture.
"The percentage of rainfall for the next month is supposed to be slightly above normal."
Ms Ganter said the developing El Nino continued to drive the outlook but the department's seasonal outlook hadn't really shown its effect yet.
"We have a lot of warm water to the west of the continent at the moment which isn't a typical pattern of El Nino and the water temperature seems to be negating the effect of the developing El Nino at this stage," she said.
"It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks.
"The temperature outlook also remains fairly neutral over the Wheatbelt and Great Southern.
"It's just the far South West coast that's looking at having warmer than normal May to July temperatures thanks to overnight temperatures which will be above normal."
p What the growers said
Morale-boosting rain was how Binnu farmer Damian Harris described between 50mm and 64mm of rain recorded on his property last weekend.
"It's sensational up here and very positive," he said.
"Morale was getting low throughout the district because we've had no rain for six months but now we've got a great start.
"There were good falls throughout the district in what was an old-time break to the season with a good tropical system.
"We'll get a good knockdown and we'll get a kill before we start our cereal program.
"I haven't used Roundup on winter weeds for ages because there has been nothing to kill but now we can get off to a positive start and we're sticking to a 1750ha program."
A happy Rodney Messina, Mullewa, was deciding whether to increase his canola program after recording between 48 and 65mm of rain last weekend.
"We pulled up last Thursday on canola but now we're 24/7 with a 11,000ha program which we should now finish by May 20," he said. "Then we can go straight into mouldboarding.
"I can't remember when we got such a good knockdown opportunity and the bonus is we can use Spray Seed which is a different chemical group.
"That should give us good weed control from the start."
At Pindar, Mark Flannagan and his brother John were busy establishing a 10,500ha program of wheat.
"We're not getting carried away but we've recorded about 50mm on most of the property so it's a great start," Mr Flannagan said.
"But we also had a wet start last year before a long dry spell and we finished with disappointing yields.
"The bonus for us is carryover fertiliser from the low-yielding crops last year plus the opportunity to get a good knockdown.
"It's 24/7 for us now and we should be able to hold to our program with no worries about wet and dry scenarios.
"This has lifted the spirits of everybody as we were all a bit toey about the dry.
"Trees were turning brown which is a good indication of how dry it is out here.
"The guys who took a punt on dry sowing canola a couple of weeks ago will be breathing a lot easier now."
Further south, west Buntine farmer Mike Dodd was all smiles at an almost perfect dial-up start to the season.
"We actually were going to start dry sowing canola a couple of weeks ago but had some delays with the seeding rig," he said.
"We got between 22.5 and 25mm throughout the farm so we started the program this week.
"There has been quick germination with radish and grasses out so I expect to get a good germination in all paddocks and get the crop in quickly.
"We have seen the value in the importance of getting the crop out of the ground because last year we had a good start and the crops out early hung on the best.
"This rain came out of the blue a bit because we were only expecting a five or 10mm event."
Cunderdin grain grower John Snooke was delighted with the 48mm he received across the weekend.
"It doesn't get much better than this," Mr Snooke said.
"To get a start like this in late April and good grain prices means we are very optimistic.
"The industry will hopefully consolidate on what was a very good year last year."
Mr Snooke was two days into seeding his 2000ha cropping program comprising a third canola, wheat and barley and hoped to be finished by the third week of May.
"Farming is a game of patience, we've had a few bad years, but this shows you it can still rain, all we need is a couple of years with good rainfall," he said.
"If we can receive our average May rainfall we would be absolutely delighted."
Moorine Rock grower Alan Nicholson received 26mm over three days.
"It's just fantastic," Mr Nicholson said.
"This is possibly the best opening rain we have had in a decade."
Mr Nicholson said the good start was a definite contrast to last season when the region did not receive any meaningful opening rainfall.
"Some farmers are struggling to put a crop in because they don't have finance this year," he said.
"There is hope this could change things.
"People are optimistic and they are going."
Mr Nicholson said those farmers that had already started dry seeding were in a good position having received significant falls.
Mr Nicholson planned to start seeding his wheat-based program last Monday.
"We are hoping for the first time in about five years to put in our full 2700ha program," he said.
Bonnie Rock grower Stephen Sprigg received 40mm, which he said topped up subsoil moisture levels.
"We have already had 130mm for the year so far," Mr Sprigg said.
"So this is huge, especially with the subsoil moisture that was already there."
Mr Sprigg said the rainfall had marked the best start to the season in a decade.
"It's not just the amount of rain but the timing," he said.
"The seasons are obviously very dependent on early starts up here because we have short seasons anyway so if we can get a prolonged window at the start it is just huge.
"Having a large rain event at this time of the year is just so significant."
Mr Sprigg has started seeding his 10,000ha cropping program, and planned to crop 9700ha of wheat and 300ha of oats.
He also manages a 4500 head Merino flock.
"The sheep have been doing really well throughout the summer given the rain and grass," he said.
"The sheep always do best when we have summer rain and now we have had winter rain and the grass is coming up it will boost things really well."
Hyden grower Dean Baker recorded between 20 and 25mm and said the timing of the rainfall was close to perfect.
When Farm Weekly spoke to Mr Baker on Monday, his 4500ha seeding program was well underway.
Having almost finished oats, Mr Baker planned to start seeding canola that day.
This year Mr Baker will put in a cropping program made up of oats, hay, canola and wheat, and hoped to be finished by the end of May.
"We will be able to finish the hay and canola program, and the rain will set us up for a pretty good germination before we seed the wheat and barley," Mr Baker said.