Crops look for spring rain after dry July

30 Aug, 2012 02:00 AM
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Cranbrook farmer Will Horrocks said he received 15mm of rain last week.
Cranbrook farmer Will Horrocks said he received 15mm of rain last week.

WA crop hopes are now resting on a wet September.

Following the driest July on record, farmers were hoping for a wetter than normal August but their disappointment largely continued throughout the month as the significant rainfall event required to put the season back on track failed to arrive.

And for many, particularly in the north east regions of the Central West and the eastern corners of the Wheatbelt, a wet September will prove to be too little, too late.

For those that will still see the benefits from good spring rains, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has good news.

BOM manager of climate services Glenn Cook said they were predicting a 60 per cent chance of above average rainfall for the South West Land Division (SWLD) for the coming months.

"Given that we had such a dry winter, it is a very positive sign," Mr Cook said.

"We are also seeing probabilities of up to an 80pc chance of an above average season on the west coast between Perth and Geraldton."

According to Mr Cook, while there was no signal for maximum temperatures, overnight temperatures had a 70-80pc chance of being warmer than normal, meaning a lesser likelihood of frosts.

Around the State it was a very mixed story from farmers, with some crops still holding up while others had long felt the pinch of a dry winter and were starting to suffer coming into the warm weather.

One area again grappling with a tough season was the Eastern Wheatbelt with farms south of Bodallin and Moorine Rock facing their seventh poor year in a row.

Merredin Rural Supplies agronomist Dave Keamy said heading east from Kellerberrin things dropped off dramatically.

"The crops are struggling out here big time," he said.

"We had a hot, windy day on Sunday which took out a lot of tonnes that would have gone to CBH."

According to Mr Keamy anything south of the Great Eastern Highway was very ordinary, although he added crop conditions around Bruce Rock and Narembeen started to pick up.

"Warralackin and some parts of Westonia are also looking reasonable where they had strips run through from various storms over the season," he said.

"But it is a pretty standard story out east that things are not looking good."

Mr Keamy said the season had changed dramatically in the last 10 days, with warmer weather and no decent rain really knocking the crops around.

"Ten days ago people were still relatively positive, but it's just dropped off so quickly," he said.

If September turns out to be above average for rainfall, Mr Keamy said some of the crops would still benefit but largely growers were facing a below average season.

"A lot of the crops that have tillered well will be fine, but about a third of them haven't," he said.

"We could get 100 inches on that stuff and it will still only have one tiller and will still only go three bags.

"If we do get the rain that is forecast on Sunday night and Monday then we will still see some potential in the better crops."

The story in the Central West was much the same with the area north east of Geraldton seriously struggling.

Landmark agronomist Bernie Quade said some of the farmers in those corners were still waiting to receive 100 millimetres for the year.

"Most guys are sitting on between 100mm and 150mm, but there are some who still haven't even got that," he said.

"The further east you go the worse it gets."

Mr Quade told Farm Weekly in late July that crops would start to run into trouble and farmers would be looking at a below average season if they didn't get a decent rain soon.

"This is even more evident now," he said.

"Every week that passes without a decent rain is more and more worrying.

"Even if September was above average for rain, in many areas the damage has already been done.

"It isn't just rainfall now either, it has already started to get warm up here and that has really started to shut the crop off."

But Mr Quade said it wasn't all bad news in the region with growers closer to the coast looking at a positive outcome.

"Those areas have received over 200mm for the year and with prices where they are they are still set to make a profit," he said.

The Esperance zone is in stark contrast to a majority of the State with widespread, continuous rains throughout July and into August boosting the confidence of many farmers in the region.

Growers in the region were looking forward to an average or above average season according to Landmark agronomist Daniel Bell.

Mr Bell said Esperance was quite a bit different to the rest of the State with good July rains keeping things ticking along.

"We had an inch last week through most areas," he said.

"Cascade and Salmon Gums might have only received 10mm or so but most other guys got an inch or more and the crops are all looking really good."

Mr Bell said heading east and inland things started to dry off but he added even those drier areas were still ticking along.

"Things there are going better than what they normally do," he said.

"There are also a few isolated areas in the region that just missed out on some of the early rains but no one down here is too desperate for rain at the moment."

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