Hopes of bumper season fade to dust

09 Jul, 2015 02:00 AM
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It was all systems go for sprayers and spreaders on the Eyre Peninsula this week, where timely rain is expected this weekend. At the Bammann farm near Cleve, Tilly, 2, and Theo, 3, were pictured playing in mud leftover from the 36 millimetres that fell in June. Their father Justin said more was needed for their canola, wheat and lentil crops.
It was all systems go for sprayers and spreaders on the Eyre Peninsula this week, where timely rain is expected this weekend. At the Bammann farm near Cleve, Tilly, 2, and Theo, 3, were pictured playing in mud leftover from the 36 millimetres that fell in June. Their father Justin said more was needed for their canola, wheat and lentil crops.

EL NINO conditions have hit SA with a vengeance, with several locations receiving their lowest June rainfall on record.

Bridgewater, Edithburgh, Mintaro and Mount Schank had their driest June yet, while dozens of other country towns recorded their lowest June falls in decades.

Bureau of Meteorology SA-based senior meteorologist Darren Ray said the dry conditions were a result of the El Nino declared earlier this year.

"Through June we had stronger than average high pressure systems over southern Australia – that's an impact that you often see as a consequence of an El Nino event," he said.

Grain Producers SA chairman Garry Hansen, Coomandook, said most farmers were not pushing the panic button yet, but added conditions were variable across the state. In the far west, some farmers have been unable to complete their cropping programs because of the lack of rain, while in regions such as the northern Mallee and Mid North, crops were showing good potential.

"In areas that had good opening rains, I think the farmers would've got their crops in in very good time this year," he said. "Most of those areas are looking pretty good, but there's not a lot of subsoil moisture.

"There are some pockets in the state that didn't even get those good early rains – particularly the far west coast – and some parts of the South East were a bit late.

"You don't have to go too far from here to find areas that missed out on those early rains and they are really struggling. I've seen a lot of crops that were put in later than normal in the middle to the end of June and they've got very poor establishment.

"Up until the end of May, we were spot on average here, but it fell away in June. It's not what you'd call a disaster, but everyone is looking for a bit more rain."

Mr Hansen said cold nights were having an impact in some regions.

"We have had a few frosts recently, and the drier parts have probably had the worst frosts, which has exacerbated their issues," he said.

"This time of year frosts don't tend to hurt the crop, it's more that they tend to dry the ground out."

With conditions likely to remain difficult, some farmers were reconsidering their spreading programs.

"Everyone is probably starting to redo their budgets for nitrogen top-ups and things like that to make sure they don't spend too much on their crops if the potential isn't there," Mr Hansen said. "It's not just about spending too much money, you also don't want to overcook your crops, because that's the worst thing you can do in a dry season."

Farmers will be keeping a close eye on the weather radar for the next few days, with the Bureau forecasting 5 millimetres to 15mm across the southern agricultural area, with 15mm to 25mm likely in parts of the Mount Lofty Ranges, Kangaroo Island and the Lower South East.

While this low pressure system may bring much needed falls, the longer term outlook is far from bright.

"It's looking like we'll then see some more big high pressure systems, so I think the second half of the month will be a bit drier than the first half," Mr Ray said.

"In the short-term it's looking very likely that that sort of pattern will continue through July and August, so for the remainder of winter it appears we'll come in with below average rainfall.

"With the El Nino in place, it's more likely we'll have dry conditions through spring as well. There is the expectation that things will continue to be drier."

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