WHEATBELT farmer Stephen Smith couldn't have chosen a better year to trial a summer cropping program on his Cunderdin farm.
Despite receiving almost half of the farm's annual rainfall quota in January, these crops won't be harvested for grain.
The four winter cropping varieties sown in the summer months will be grazed for livestock feed to help bridge the Autumn feed gap.
After receiving 170 millimetres of rain already for 2017 Mr Smith's punt on planting the five-hectare site in December already looks like paying off.
He is working with natural resource management group Wheatbelt NRM and AgInnovate farm consultant Jonathan England, with the plan to use the site as a green fodder crop for the family's 700 Merino ewes due to lamb in May.
"I've always mucked around with the idea of growing crops in the summer, so this demonstration site progressed the concept and was about assessing the risk and the best varieties to grow," Mr Smith said.
"If we look back at our long-term rainfall records, for every four out of seven summers we've recorded more than 40mm of rain.
"With this five-hectare demonstration site we've chosen Hyola canola, Superdan 2 sudan grass hybrid, Global Sunn which is a legume and the Manning winter wheat variety - all planted on December 15."
Wheatbelt NRM program manager Fiona Brayshaw said the trial would help explore a more sustainable way of feeding sheep over summer.
The project was being replicated further south in Pingelly at Kane and Bec Page's farm, with funding through the National Landcare Program.
"We're seeing more and more climate variability over the summer months and this January was a case in point," Ms Bradshaw said.
"These two demonstration sites provide a potentially more sustainable way to feed sheep over the summer months and help farmers take advantage of this climate variability.
"Some farmers are already growing millet and brassicas as a summer cropping option, but we'd like to extend that even further."
AgInnovate farm consultant Jonathan England was driving the trial and is already calculating the productivity of each variety.
"We've done testing by counting how many plants were growing per square metre and measuring their weight to calculate the biomass," Mr England said.
"Where the crops have had a good germination, we've measured up to 10 tonnes to the hectare in spots.
"In the Cunderdin crop of Super Dan we calculated 4.5t/ha biomass at the highest sowing rate.
"This is a good result given it was planted in December and nothing normally grows over summer."
Mr England said varieties like Superdan were chosen because of its low levels of prussic acid that is toxic to sheep.
"The Superdan 2 also has a finer leaf than other varieties and was more suited to grazing," he said.
"The Global Sunn legume is a new variety and if it survives can put some nitrogen back into the system, increase soil biology and provide a disease break.
"The Manning winter wheat and Hyola were chosen because they both required cold stress in winter before they could reproduce, so if they survive the summer and grazing pressures, they could potentially be carried through as a crop to harvest."
Mr Smith would like to expand the trial from five to 50ha but concedes there are challenges.
"Apart from the obvious risk of not getting enough follow up rain, other problems would include how to manage melons and caltrop," he said.
"At this stage the best varieties look like being the Superdan or the canola.
"We started grazing it in early March and can now begin to assess as it is grazed over the next three months."
Paddock walks will be held at both sites before seeding starts.