Widespread rains a relief

25 Jul, 2013 02:00 AM
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Owen Graham received falls of between 20 and 50 millimetres on his Dunn Rock farm last week. Mr Graham, who is pictured with his children Harry (3) and Emily (1) in a Yitpi wheat crop, said it had already made a massive difference to his crops.
Owen Graham received falls of between 20 and 50 millimetres on his Dunn Rock farm last week. Mr Graham, who is pictured with his children Harry (3) and Emily (1) in a Yitpi wheat crop, said it had already made a massive difference to his crops. "Any rain is good rain at this time of year," Mr Graham said.

WIDESPREAD rains through much of the Western Australian wheatbelt last week saved many growers from a shocker of a season.

But for some, it was a case of too-little, too-late.

Heading into July, crops throughout WA were in a precarious position.

The text-book start to the season was followed by one of the driest Junes on record which put significant pressure on yield potential throughout much of the State, particularly the northern and eastern parts of the Wheatbelt.

Last week, the Albany and Esperance zones, western parts of the Kwinana zone and southern parts of the Geraldton zones received anywhere from 10 millimetres to 90mm of rain.

But areas further east and north largely missed out, putting more pressure on an already tight season.

At the start of July, the Grains Industry Association of WA (GIWA) estimated production to reach 10.7 million tonnes from a planting estimates of 6.8 million hectares – a 278,000ha drop from it's June estimate.

GIWA crop report project manager Alan Meldrum said last week's rainfall wouldn't have a huge impact on forecast production figures as there was still a long way to go until the end of the season.

"We aren't looking at pumping the figures by any substantial measure in the short-term, because we need to see what will happen for the rest of the year," he said.

Mr Meldrum said during the dry June, the more established crops had been drawing on deep moisture which, in a normal year, was relied on in spring to finish crops off and provide extra production when rainfall was lacking.

"Now we will need some good rainfall to replenish those stocks and give us back the buffer we need for spring time," he said.

"We will need some heavy rainfall through the rest of July and into August to get to the point where we can achieve normal tonnages."

Mr Meldrum said although the rain had saved the more established crops, the yield potential of anything that hadn't yet emerged heading into July was limited.

"As we move further into July, that yield potential becomes close to zero," he said.

"For dry-sown crops that hadn't emerged prior to receiving some rain last week, they have very limited prospects of being harvestable to any degree.

"That is quite disappointing as some growers in the north-east Wheatbelt, around Bonnie Rock, Bullfinch, Southern Cross and Marvel Loch, are looking at a nil result at this stage."

Growers in those regions have a very narrow opportunity to get the crops up and about and established and according to Mr Meldrum that window had come and gone.

He said there was a clear cut line between those crops sown in late April to mid-May - that were able to establish themselves and get a good root system into reasonable water - and those that didn't.

"The crops sown after that time didn't have access to the deeper moisture and they really suffered waiting for rain in June," Mr Meldrum said.

"But those early sown crops are likely to have at least average to above average yields if we get a good season finish.

"Also still struggling are the areas north of the Geraldton-Mullewa road, Northampton, Yuna, Binnu and Ajana.

"They missed out on substantial rain in the last week so they could certainly do with a drink very soon."

Crops on the south and west coastal regions were struggling due to a dry top-soil, which the rain relieved in much of that region according to Mr Meldrum.

He said away from the coast in the Esperance and Albany zones, crops and pastures were looking excellent.

"A good portion of the State still has average yield potential but we need a good winter and good spring to finish it off," he said.

"The forecasters are talking of a better than average rainfall for the rest of the year, so hopefully we will see things turn around."

Co-operative Bulk Handling estimated receivals for this year's harvest were sitting tight at between nine million tonnes and 10mt, according to general manager of operations David Capper.

Mr Capper said while the recent rains didn't do much to boost that figure, they stopped the bottom from falling out of the estimates.

"We have a really solid forecast for the southern zones and we are predicting 2.5mt in Albany and 2.1mt in Esperance," he said.

"The Kwinana and Geraldton zones are still variable.

"We could see a 500,000t difference in each depending on how things go from today on.

"But the rain shored up the crop in the western part of the Kwinana zone and the southern parts of the Geraldton zone.

Mr Capper said some parts of the eastern and northern areas, which largely missed out on the rain, had essentially missed the boat, considering how late it was in the year.

"The crops around Southern Cross, which hadn't germinated until the rain last week, have still got a very long way to go," he said.

"We would need a really long and late season for them to do anything special and there are probably some areas where the season is gone already.

"But all forecasts are pointing to a wetter than normal spring so we have our fingers crossed for that."

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