Hanging out for rain

Hanging out for rain


Agribusiness
MUNTADGIN farmer Jeff Hooper is still smiling despite the lack of rain.  This picture was taken in May during a seeding program, but many farms throughout the Eastern Wheatbelt are as bare as this now with seed dormant in dry conditions.  "Yeah it's tough but we got between 6.5 and 7mm throughout our farm two weeks ago and that germinated the last of our crop," Mr Hooper said.

MUNTADGIN farmer Jeff Hooper is still smiling despite the lack of rain. This picture was taken in May during a seeding program, but many farms throughout the Eastern Wheatbelt are as bare as this now with seed dormant in dry conditions. "Yeah it's tough but we got between 6.5 and 7mm throughout our farm two weeks ago and that germinated the last of our crop," Mr Hooper said.

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ANOTHER week of no rain has turned the screws on Eastern Wheatbelt farmers.

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ANOTHER week of no rain has turned the screws on Eastern Wheatbelt farmers.

And like a football coach watching his team being belted by the opposition, there is nothing they can do.

Though some forecasters are tipping rain for Saturday, a persistent high pressure cell may thwart any chances of a cold front reaching as high as the Eastern Wheatbelt.

For the majority of farmers in the district, this season represents the last roll of the dice and they are now in the miracle zone.

But there is still hope.

Yilgarn farmer Romolo Patroni remembers that in 1956 it didn't rain until July 6.

I remember in 1999, the rain needed to get crops going, didn't come until early August.

But it's hard to ignore facts and while crops in other parts of the Wheatbelt look really good, large tracts of cropping land in the Eastern Wheatbelt are under increased pressure as a promising weather front last weekend failed to deliver any rain in the area.

"We got a couple of drops," Mr Patroni said.

"But it wasn't enough to put on the windscreen wipers.

"We need at least an inch (25mm) to get crops moving.

"It has become desperate now and all we can do now is hang in.

"I drove east of Merredin last week and it's looking like January or February, really dry.

"We'll have to unload sheep soon because we can't keep feeding them and you can be sure the cost pressures are really starting to hurt people now.

"Unfortunately the banks have forced a few sales in our area and it's not good.

"One property was listed at $295 a hectare and sold for $195/ha and another was $200/ha under market price.

"I honestly don't know what farmers can do and the situation is compounded by the fact that a lot of young people aren't hanging in.

"I fear a large displacement of farmers from this area if we have another bad cropping year."

Westonia farmer Ross Della Bosca remained upbeat despite thoughts of a possible negative outcome.

"We're in the same boat as everybody else out here," he said.

"We cut fertiliser rates back to put in as much crop as we could and we've established 8500ha as a last roll of the dice.

"Our place is probably the best in the area because a lot of guys still haven't got crop out of the ground.

"It's as dry as a bone and we all needed rain last weekend.

"I can only hope our crops survive long enough to get the roots down to the subsoil moisture.

"It's very patchy on the heavy country but where there's sand it's okay for now.

"The worst thing is there's no sheep feed and guys are carting water and hand-feeding sheep and in many cases, it is now a case of selling the sheep.

"We're not alone.

"Once you go east of Meckering it starts to show how poor the crops are and it's on both sides of Great Eastern Highway.

"South Burracoppin is the worst I've seen it but there are parts of south Merredin that jagged between 40mm and 50mm in May and that's looking magnificent."

Narembeen farmer Bill Cowan said the displacement of farmers from the Eastern Wheatbelt could be as bad as during the Great Depression.

"We're not immune and people have had to carry us a bit until we got some bank finance," he said.

"But everybody went into this year with big debts and that all has to be repaid at the end of the year.

"No harvest will mean no debt repayments so the displacement could be huge.

"We needed rain last week but we only recorded a mill.

"We needed five mill to keep going and 10mm to give us hope of a good season.

"We've got everything out of the ground but the crops are under stress now and I think between 25 and 30 per cent of our canola won't make it."

According to Mr Cowan, many farmers sold off-farm assets to give themselves one last chance of growing a good crop.

"We've had three foreclosures in the district, there have been six at Southern Cross and four in one day at Hyden.

"Small businesses also are feeling the pinch in the ripple effect that is created in this type of year."

Real estate agents throughout the Eastern Wheatbelt were reluctant to discuss the situation on record.

"There are plenty of rumours and speculation about what is happening," one real estate salesman said.

"Obviously we're staring at a potential below average production year out here and the banks are getting nervous but I am not seeing any rise in bank requests for mortgagee and possession (sales)," he said.

"About 95 per cent of the listings I've got are coming from farmers wanting to sell.

"I would think that would reflect the fact that banks are putting pressure on farmers to sell and it's widely known there are plenty of discussions being held between banks and farmers.

"A lot of farmers have loans with conditions and on most loans, usually 90 per cent of the lending is done against the farm.

"So obviously if the season doesn't go well, the farmer will be under pressure."

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