Wet July paints a positive picture

28 Jul, 2011 04:00 AM
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Toodyay farmer Craig Stewart didn't have long to wait for the heavens to open this week as he welcomed more rain on his property.
Toodyay farmer Craig Stewart didn't have long to wait for the heavens to open this week as he welcomed more rain on his property.

A WEAK frontal system this week delivered further meaningful rain to large parts of the Wheatbelt, especially in areas with little or no subsoil moisture.

While regular rain events will be critical over the next two months in these areas - generally eastern and southern Wheatbelt areas - recent regular rain activity has raised hopes for a good season.

The comfort for farmers is rainfall systems are continuing to develop in the Indian Ocean and while only a handful have delivered solid frontal activity, unexpected thunderstorms have made life easier for many farmers.

West Corrigin farmer Wes Baker is typical of grateful farmers on the receiving end of rain-bearing clouds that missed neighbouring properties.

"We got one last month that gave us 32mm while some of my neighbours got nothing," he said.

"That's just how it is some years and you take what you get."

Holt Rock farmers Gary and Aaron Strothers also were big winners last Thursday when they recorded 21mm of rain.

"We got 32mm for the week which has bumped up this month's total to between 45mm and 55mm for the month," Gary said.

"If it keeps going like this we'll be very happy.

"Another 20mm this week will start a bit of run-off into the dams and really help to kick pastures away."

The big news of a looming good season is the confidence pick-up in the bush which is translating into business.

Farm Machinery Dealers Association executive officer John Henchy said many machinery dealers were now taking orders on the back of good crop prospects.

"These latest rains have either confirmed to farmers they will have one of their best seasons or they are in with a chance for a good season," he said.

"While there are still pockets throughout the Wheatbelt where farmers need more rain, the overall picture is positive.

"I think the confidence factor will help the machinery field days round but astute farmers will be talking with dealers before they start to ensure they get what they want."

These scattered rains throughout parts of the Wheatbelt also have CBH planning for a larger crop than initially expected.

CBH operations manager Max Johnson said an influx of returned crop estimates throughout the week reinforced positive grower sentiment and 55 per cent of growers had already returned their forms.

"We're 20pc in front of where we were at this time last year," he said.

"Only 35pc of growers had relayed their information back to us by the end of July, 2010."

Mr Johnson said all growers needed to do was indicate how many hectares of crop had been planted and of which varieties so that the bulk handler could plan for harvest storage and logistics.

"It has been a really solid push from our growers but we can't afford to drop the ball now," he said.

He said judging by the forms in so far, wheat plantings had risen significantly for the year by about 350,000 hectares which had come at the cost of other crops like barley.

Overall plantings in WA had increased by less than five per cent on last year.

"At the moment we're looking at a nine million to an 11m tonne crop for WA," Mr Johnson said.

Which wasn't at all bad considering the 10.3mt harvest in 2009/10, the 6.5mt harvest last year and an extremely dry outlook at the start of the season for 2011/12.

But Mr Johnson was also cautious in divulging the numbers.

"We can't be too confident because there's still a long time before the crop is in the bin," he said.

"As much as I don't like to say it, one or two frosts between now and then can do a lot to those numbers."

Of the port zones in WA it was Geraldton which would face the most pressure to perform.

"If all goes well the Geraldton zone will almost set records in terms of its crop production this year," Mr Johnson said.

"If the zone finishes well it looks set to produce a 2.5mt crop or beyond."

The Kwinana, Esperance and Albany zones also staged a comeback over recent weeks due to scattered rain.

"We're not too concerned about them anymore," Mr Johnson said.

"Over the last five to six weeks the tide has really started to turn and some rain has really given them the boost they were hoping for.

"But at the end of the day, it's the Geraldton zone that faces the production pressure because it's looking so good at this point in time."

But despite the positive impact of a little bit of rain throughout much of the WA crop zone, a slide in grain prices and the lack of rain in the eastern districts still provided the industry with some challenges.

"The drop in grain prices really is disappointing and it doesn't do much for the confidence of some of our growers," Mr Johnson said.

"The Lakes district, Kulin, Hyden and east of Corrigin are still facing some real pressure but thankfully areas like Salmon Gums look to be back in the game."

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