FOR Coonamble Angus, improving fodder production has become a top priority, after wet weather ended a run of below-average seasons.
Stud co-principal Craig Davis and wife Nat recently recorded 310 millimetres at their Bremer Bay property to the start of June, compared to 100mm at the same time last year.
Despite three consecutive dry years, Coonamble finished 2020 strong with near-average rainfall showering the property from mid-July onwards.
"We received some rain in mid-July, which gave us a break to the season," Mr Davis said.
"When we got that 110mm on August 1, well we had a really good finish after that.
"I think we probably ended up with 550mm at the end of it, but it was all recorded at the end of the year."
The second-generation Angus breeder runs about 750 to 800 breeders, 180 bulls and 150 heifers on 1600 hectares of arable land.
He also grows oats, however this year seeded ryegrass and new clovers to establish paddocks for good pasture in the favourable conditions.
Mr Davis said he did some cropping and it depended on how the season unfolded as to whether it was harvested or used for fodder.
He said he had been "caught out" the past three years, not having enough fodder and having to buy in more.
But the strong finish last year helped him produce a substantial amount of silage and hay in spring.
"It has set us up nicely this year,'' Mr Davis said.
"Our main priority is making sure we get our fodder production right first."
Historically, the average rainfall at Coonamble Angus is 550-600mm.
The last time the farm had a decent season start was in 2016-17, when it stayed green throughout the entire year.
In the years that followed, they were hit with much smaller rainfall events and strong north-westerly winds, which caused more trouble than good.
"You only get 3-4mm out of those smaller rainfall events, then you have the wind taking more out than the rain was actually putting in," Mr Davis said.
"You would call them negative rain events.
"And I think that's what gets people down the most - the wind.
"When we are trying not to have soil erosion and then that happens, it is the hardest part."
Coonamble switched to no-till farming and retaining stubble in an attempt to hold the soil together.
Mr Davis said about 40 hectares was significantly affected by erosion, which he put down to the dry and windy conditions and overgrazing.
He said the drier years have helped him gain a better understanding of what not to run in unfavourable circumstances.
"The stock are looking good, they recovered pretty quickly, as soon as we got that spring flush last year,'' Mr Davis said.
"We did end up sending 100-head off to agistment in July when we were concerned it would still be another six weeks before we had any feed.
"We sold those stock while they were away on agistment.
"One of the decisions we made, perhaps after the better years, was we were slightly overstocked."
At the end of March last year when "things didn't feel good", Coonamble also sold 50 stud heifers over east to South Australia (30 head) and Victoria (20 head).
As for cropping, the recent rainfall, teamed with the warmer weather, has encouraged growth and set Mr Davis' operation up for a promising season.
"It does seem quite warm this year, even though we are now into winter," he said.
"Things still seem to be growing reasonably well, which helps if it gets too cold because once you get the rain then the growth sort of slows down.
"The kikuyu certainly hasn't taken a hit and looks quite lush.
"You notice the kikuyu around Albany can turn yellow in colour because it gets too cold for it."
Mr Davis said the rain had left Bremer Bay residents in high spirits, particularly as it had helped the river break through to the ocean for the first time in four years.
He said the celebrations had spread right across WA with most agricultural areas receiving a drink.
"I know there will be some people that didn't, but on the whole I think most have," Mr Davies said.
"The season outlook is positive among sheep, cattle and grain farmers with the prices being quite good.
"Ideally, it is probably just a bit wetter than we would like it to be, but I think everyone would prefer that instead of the dry."
Mr Davis said the security of water in dams at Bremer Bay was a good feeling and a welcome sight.
He said in the dry years there were many farmers who had been forced to cart water.
"We weren't one of them, but you would be just about employing someone to drive a truck to cart water everyday,'' he said.
"That on top of all other costs is huge.
"All of the dams have only just filled up now with the rainfall in the past few weeks."
Coonamble operates on an underground water system, however water "well and truly overflowing" in one of their key dams will provide security moving forward.
Mr Davis said while the cattle preferred bore water, the dam being full meant he didn't have to "freak" on a 40 degree summer day.
"At least I have some water and they can go to the dam if there is something wrong with the trough," he said.
"It relieves that stress and pressure."
Mr Davis said the rainfall had replenished swamps which haven't had water in them since 2017.
"You forget sometimes that this is normal, where you have a few dry years in a row or past years where it is just wet," he said.
"As a kid this is how I remember Bremer Bay.
"Water over the road in three or four spots coming out of town, that sort of thing."