Dry autumn dampens seeding plans

18 May, 2018 09:58 AM
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Jacup grower Kalan Bailey said he plans to pull up on seeding until it rains.
Jacup grower Kalan Bailey said he plans to pull up on seeding until it rains.

A DRY spell across the State has changed the tunes of many farmers who will need to decide soon if they should continue seeding or pull up.

With summer storms this year being isolated and patchy, many growers said the sub-soil moisture was gone.

The future forecasts also lack promise.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s May to July outlook forecasts only a 35 per cent chance of exceeding the median rainfall.

Although a dry May isn’t uncommon, with the bureau releasing figures that five out of the past nine years have seen below average rainfall in May.

In 2017 a majority of the State received “very much below average” rainfall for May, the bureau reported.

But last year’s summer rains, where some growers received more than 200 millimetres in February, produced just enough sub-soil moisture to carry through until July.

Yealering farmer Shane Hill said the main difference between this year and last year was they had sub-soil moisture last year which helped germinate the seed.

“Last year we had more than 200mm in summer and this year we have probably had about 30mm as a guess,” Mr Hill said.

“Our seed is just sitting in the ground dormant.

“We haven’t had any rain since we started seeding and it’s a little dryer than usual for this time of year.”

With 5300 hectares of crop to put in, Mr Hill has already finished planting 1000ha of canola and 600ha of lupins.

He has just started a 750ha barley program and will then continue on to his 2950ha wheat program, despite the minimal rain forecast.

Mr Hill will keep going with the program, aiming to get all the seed planted and will then see what happens.

“It looks a lot dryer but it’s not shockingly unusual to be this dry at this time of year,” he said.

At the end of March, when storms moved throughout the Wheatbelt with damaging winds, one of his properties received 45mm of rain.

That storm proved to be very isolated with Mr Hill’s other properties receiving less than 10mm.

Newdegate grower Dwight Ness said he has had “bugger all rain this summer”.

“I can’t remember how much and I haven’t taken notice because it hasn’t been much,” Mr Ness said.

He started seeding some canola, putting in 200ha two weeks ago and will cap it at 250ha, half of the original 500ha he was going to plant.

Depending on how the season pans out, some of the land set for canola might be seeded to barley.

“We are putting 250ha of barley in now but we are going to stop seeding after that,” he said.

“With the wind we had the other day, which scared us a bit, we plan on doing barley into stubble paddocks at the moment and then we are going to stop.

“We are going to pull up and go and find something else to do until it rains.”

Mr Ness isn’t the only one cutting back with Moorine Rock grower Alan Nicholson loosing faith in the season.

“It’s just too dry,” Mr Nicholson said.

“We are going to start dry seeding this week, but I want the seed in the ground for the least time possible before it starts to rain – and the forecast is bleak.”

For Mr Nicholson, May is usually a very dry month if he doesn’t get any April rain.

This year he will halve his normal program to reduce the risk.

“We are wheat only here and we usually put in about 3000ha, but I think we will cut that in half to about 1500ha this year,” he said.

Mr Nicholson said there was no sub-soil moisture.

Last year he had country earmarked to be seeded but a crop didn’t go in because of dry weather.

That land has been in fallow for nearly two years and will be a priority to be seeded this year.

Mr Nicholson is hoping rain will fall on it.

“Our property is 4000ha and we used to run livestock out here,” he said.

“We got rid of our livestock with the tough seasons and it’s very tough to run livestock here at this stage.

“I suppose it’s like that around most of the State but here it is diabolically tough at the moment.”

Since January, he has had between 20-30mm of summer rain, which dried up pretty quickly.

“It’s very dry here and a few places have had a bit more and there is a bit of moisture underneath, but it’s very patchy and hard to tell,” he said.

Mr Nicholson said his neighbour received 100mm over summer, which is what they would usually expect during the season.

“In places we have had no rain since November,” he said.

“I am trying to say something positive, but I can’t find anything.”

Mr Nicholson said providing it didn’t stay too dry they would keep going but their run over poor seasons meant they couldn’t afford another like it.

Jacup farmer Kalan Bailey had similar rainfall over summer with 20-30mm falling on his farm, which he said was a lot less than normal.

Already Mr Bailey has seeded 700ha of canola and 700ha barley and the dry start has reduced the canola planting by 20pc.

“We will wait and see what the season does but we will possibly substitute that for barley or leave it out for the sheep,” Mr Bailey said.

He will crop a further 300ha of barley before pulling up and waiting for rain, with 2000ha of wheat to hopefully follow.

“We started pretty much on Anzac Day and we have been going at a bit of a snail’s pace since then,” he said.

“We are in no rush because we are waiting for the rain.”

Mr Bailey said some sub-soil moisture was retained deeper in the soil profile, but there wasn’t enough there to make seed germinate.

The forecast for the rest of the month is looking pretty dusty, with the average median rainfall total not looking to be met.

The Elders 28-day weather forecast for the Central West shows cold fronts are expected to hit WA between May 27 and June 11, with a medium chance of showers across those days.

The 12-month forecast for the Central West shows a below-normal June and August, with above normal rainfall forecasted for September and October.

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Ban live exports now. This is cruelty. Better to export the meat done here not there. We must
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What a callous Government we have that allows sheep and other exported animals to suffer the
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