Season is off and racing after good rain

Season is off and racing after good rain

Cropping News
 Ella Barndon, 3, took after her dad Tim, while inspecting the dams in Kulin after 75-82mm of rain. Photo by Tim Barndon Jnr/Twitter.

Ella Barndon, 3, took after her dad Tim, while inspecting the dams in Kulin after 75-82mm of rain. Photo by Tim Barndon Jnr/Twitter.


Season is off and racing after good rain


SOME are describing it as the best start to the season this century, with the rainfall that fell last week providing an actual season break - 25 millimetres or more of rain over a couple of days in May - across the majority of the State for the first time in a long time.

Combine last week's weather event with excellent commodity prices across the board and ample subsoil moisture brought on by good summer rainfall and WA farmers are looking at the most ideal conditions in more than 20 years.

With moisture in the soil and warmer temperatures still around, crops that are going into the ground and germinating quickly, meaning many farmers have slowed down their seeding programs to avoid everything flowering at the same time.

While the rain was welcome, it has caused some trafficability issues particularly in parts of the Southern Coastal and Great Southern regions that were already quite wet.

However that rain has also filled dams which have been empty, or close to, and has meant that many mixed enterprise farmers have been able to stop hand feeding livestock.


OF all the regions across the State, the Central West received the least amount of rain - while some people did get 20 millimetres or more, most were more in the 5mm to 15mm range.

However Planfarm Geraldton agronomist Nick McKenna said on account of the really good subsoil moisture and decent rains prior, it was enough to fill up the topsoil again, so in most areas people are sowing into moisture.

"In this neck of the woods, right now is the ideal time of emergence of crops, so the fact that we're not really waiting on a follow-up rain to get an emergence and we've already got a knockdown on weeds is pretty much ideal," Mr McKenna said.

"We've got really good stored moisture from summer rainfall, plus we've managed a great weed kill with all the rainfall that came through with the cyclone and commodity prices are booming, so all those factors combined mean there is a lot of optimism in the air."

Rainfall across Mingenew farmer Geoff Cosgrove's property ranged between 7mm and 22mm, which will be enough to get the rest of the crop in the ground and germinated.

"We've got a reasonable bank of moisture from summer rain and got a bit of rain off the back of the cyclone, so we've done well so far and now we've got enough to finish seeding," Mr Cosgrove said.

"We're a month in front of last year - last season we didn't have any crops out of the ground until June, now we've already got canola and lupins up and some wheat has come out as well.

"It's nice and warm still so they're growing quite quickly, that means the crops should be able to put a good root system down to help them hang in there when we inevitably get a few dry spells."

Mr Mckenna said in the region, crops that had emerged in the middle of May had historically done the best.

"Everyone will aim to have seeding wrapped up by the end of May or beginning of June, but we'll probably need a little bit more rain if we want to keep wet sowing," he said.

However, the fact that we've got some crops out of the ground means that we're in a less risky position.

"There are a lot of insect pests floating around, which isn't unexpected with the green bridge and early opening rains, so as long as people stay on top of what's eating their crop, we should be really well set up moving into the true winter."

That optimism was echoed by Mr Cosgrove who said that the knockdown opportunities have been the biggest advantage of the season, as it's been a few years since they had that chance.

"We're spraying canola at the moment that's been up for two weeks and we'll be spraying lupins for radish before we finish seeding," he said.

After the next rain we get we'll be spreading nitrogen, so things are happening very quickly and we're definitely feeling pretty optimistic."


RAINFALL varies across the Central Wheatbelt and while the whole area received at least 20mm, others out towards the east scored upwards of 50mm.

Independent agronomist Michael Lamond said some of the areas that were a bit dry received plenty and the areas that had plenty got even more.

"Farmers did take a couple of days off while it was raining, but the majority would be well into their cereals by now and they're just avoiding any patches that are too wet," Mr Lamond said.

"People are conscious of the fact that if everything goes in too quickly and too early, they'll open themselves to frost risk.

"They're not going flat out and there's plenty of moisture there to be able to spread the planting dates out a bit."

Bruce Rock farmer John Chapman received 40mm to 70mm across the farm and said he'd have to go back to 2016 since he'd had an opening rain like that and a wet May seeding.

"This year we've already had more rainfall than we did across the growing season last year," Mr Chapman said.

"We're about 60 per cent of the way through our program now and we've only got wheat to go - we did stop for a few days last week while it was too wet, but we're back into it now and should finish in the last week of May.

"From this point on, a decile three rain is still average or just above and with the crops coming up earlier than they have for a while, that really gets the yield potential up."

Mr Lamond said there's not too many things that can go wrong now - frost is one and locusts are hammering some crops out east, but overall the season is looking really positive.

"It's been 10 or more years since we've had a good opening rain across the whole State, but we've also got good subsoil moisture to go with it and I can't think of a year in the last 20 that we've had both of those things," he said.

"When you have everything going in earlier with subsoil moisture, you're already looking at above average yields because you've lengthened out the growing season.

"So even with average or slightly below average rainfall for the rest of the year, we could still get above-average yields."


IN the Southern Coastal area, stretching from Albany across to Esperance, the rain was extremely welcome and has filled up the soil profile, however in some areas waterlogging has become an issue.

Most farmers in the area had already finished their canola and were starting to get into barley, but some have had to pull up as it's too wet and bogging was a real problem.

Elders Albany agronomist James Bee said there was no shortage of water and all soil types, even when they're a bait non-wetting, have managed to wet up.

"We are starting to get a bit too wet and the past few phone calls I've had have been from guys who seeded just prior to the rain and got 60mm to 80mm over the week and that is causing some water logging issues," Mr Bee said.

"A lot of the crop that had already emerged is alright for the time being, but there are some questions over crops that were sown just prior to the rain and there has been water sitting in the furrow for a week."

Stirlings South farmer Mal Thomson said he could only describe his farm as completely saturated.

Speaking to Farm Weekly on Monday morning, Mr Thomson said he was still trying to decide when to start seeding again.

"I stopped seeding on Friday, April 30 as I saw last week's front coming - we'd finished the canola and decided to hold off on the barely," Mr Thomson said.

"There's another little front coming through on Wednesday (yesterday) which is predicting 5 or 6mm, if we get that we're in trouble but if we miss it we're alright.

"I'm contemplating when we get going - there's some paddocks that are still a sheet of water and any that have been clayed and really disturbed are a sloppy soup, so it'll be three or four weeks until we get onto them."

While the bogging and waterlogging is a problem, most in the area are still very happy with the moisture as they haven't had a good, wet year since 2017.

The rain also has additional benefits such allowing for excellent weed knockdowns and filling up dams for livestock, especially in water deficient areas such as Jerramungup.

"I don't think anyone is too unhappy, they're more just looking at how they manage the paddocks," Mr Bee said.

"We've got good weed control, especially in areas where there hasn't been a good knockdown opportunity for a couple of years, so the weed burden is reduced and we should hopefully end up with clean crops.

"We know that pasture growth is going to be exceptional and we should end up with at least average yields."

Not even halfway through the month and Mr Thomson's farm is only a fraction under the most rain he's ever had until the end of May.

"We've got no rivers or creek systems, so the water just gathers in paddocks and stays there," he said.

"Parts of the farm have had 65mm for the month so far, we also got 30mm the last week of April, so we're at about 265mm for the year so far.

"I'm not whining about the rain at all, but we are sitting on a knife's edge - a little bit more rain and we could be in a lot of trouble, but if it dries off a little bit then it will be bloody beautiful."


PARTS of the Great Southern are facing similar trafficability problems to those in the Southern Coastal, but no one is turning their nose up at the amount of moisture in the profile.

Planfarm Narrogin agronomist Bill O'Neill said canola across the region is emerging really well and any oats that were sown the week of the rain are germinating well too.

"The old fashioned break of 25mm to 50mm of rain over two or three days in May hasn't happened since I've been in the district which is over 20 years, so it's really great to get that start," Mr O'Neill said.

"People are getting bogged which they're not used to at seeding time and it's creating a few hassles, but if they need to keep going, they're doing it and just skipping those bogged areas while working reduced hours.

"At best it might be 5pc of the paddock, so it's not the end of the world, it's just annoying to have bare bits in paddocks that will create weed issues down the track."

While bogging is a problem, the rain has provided a great opportunity for another knockdown and from a livestock perspective, there is ample green feed out there for sheep and people have been able to stop hand feeding.

Cuballing farmer Hilary Wittwer received 53mm of rain last week and said it was a game changer for them.

"The ryegrass germination that we're getting at the moment is great and we've been able to do double knockdowns which for the past four years we haven't been able to do," Ms Wittwer said.

"To be seeding into a moist soil profile is excellent and it's still quite warm so things are just jumping out of the ground."

With things are still a bit wet and plenty of moisture in the ground, farmers in the area won't be in any hurry to get their programs finished.

"There's no reason to push hard at the moment as we have good subsoil moisture, so depending on what crops farmers are growing, they can really put them in whenever they want to," Mr O'Neill said.

"A lot of people will be delaying seeding wheat and while barley is starting to go in, a lot of people are cautious about too much in too early because of the frost risk."

That applies to Ms Wittwer who is about halfway through her seeding program and plans to just tick along until the first week of June.

"It's still a bit early for our wheat and barley to go in, so we're sticking to oats at the moment," she said.

"The last few years have been really dry starts with late breaks, whereas this year we've had a solid rain and it's got everything going.

"Little bits of follow-up rain will really help, but we've got stored soil moisture underneath and free nitrogen from the summer rain as well."


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