Some WA farmers take the punt on early rains and starting 2022 seeding programs

By Shannon Beattie
March 29 2022 - 9:50pm
In anticipation of weekend rain, Leigh Strange planted 400 hectares of canola last week.

WITH a cyclone looming off the coast, and having learned lessons from last year, a few growers around the State took the opportunity to start their seeding programs and get some canola into the ground ahead of the rainfall that was forecast for last weekend.

While Western Australia didn't quite cop the full front of a cyclone after Charlotte weakened below tropical cyclone intensity late last week, it still delivered gale-force winds, an increase in rainfall and, in some cases, hail as it passed across the Wheatbelt and continued heading south,

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It was the Central Wheatbelt which copped the most amount of rain, with 50 millimetres falling around Bencubbin and more than 70mm recorded at Kalannie and Koorda.

As always though, it was a classic case of the have and have nots with many areas reporting 3mm or less.

While thankfully nowhere near as severe as ex-Tropical Cyclone Seroja, which hit in April last year, Charlotte still presented an opportunity to capitalise on the rainfall and get some early sown crops germinated.

Bruce Rock farmer Leigh Strange started seeding last Thursday with 400 hectares of canola going in ahead of the forecasted rain.

"We had some rain on the paddocks that we've sown, between 25 and 40 millimetres, at the beginning of March as the result of a few thunderstorms, so there's a bit of subsoil moisture on the couple of paddocks," Mr Strange said.

"We will need rain to germinate the canola we've seeded, so we're relying on the cyclone for that, but if we can get 10-15mm of rain and get it up, it'll be right for a little while because we do have a bit of fat in the system."

That line of thinking was supported by SLR Agriculture agronomist Michael Lamond who said if there was subsoil moisture and you get enough rain to germinate the canola, then there was less risk of it not surviving.

"With canola we know that generally the early you plant it, the higher the yield is," Mr Lamond said.

"In saying that, only very small amounts of canola would have been sown last week and most likely only in areas where there was previous subsoil moisture from previous storms."

With the rain having arrived over the weekend - 30mm fell on Mr Strange's paddocks- this year is off to a great start that does appear to be mimicking 2021 in some ways.

"Last year was a really wet year and we didn't really want for any moisture during seeding, especially after Seroja came down which gave us enough rain to get about two thirds of the canola out of the ground," he said.

"If we could get a bit of our canola out of the ground this early and have some subsoil moisture there for when the next rain looks like coming, then that would be a great start to 2022."

Lindsay Chappel, who farms at Morawa, Perenjori and Three Springs, also started seeding last Thursday.

He plans to seed 2200ha of canola in total this season and using an 18 metre disc seeder, he was about to get about 600ha in before the rain started.

"There's two big problems with canola - it's hard to get it out of the ground and it's hard to harvest," Mr Chappel said.

"Once it's out of the ground it's pretty easy to grow and look after, so if we can make getting it out of the ground a bit easier, then that's definitely a win."

For Mr Chappel, only 9mm fell over the weekend which was not as much as he was wanting.

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However, he hoped it might be enough to get the canola germinated, especially if a few more millimetres comes down this week.

While Mr Strange has kickstarted his seeding program, he is not in a hurry to get going with the rest of it and plans to wait and see what the weather does over the next week or two.

Without significant subsoil moisture across the rest of the farm, it's a bit risky at this stage to really get the ball rolling.

"We normally try and have all of our canola and lupins done by April 20-25, so this is earlier than usual but we certainly have been seeding this time of year before," Mr Strange said.

"It's not unheard of and I think it's becoming more common practice to take any opportunity we can to get the crop germinated.

"With the 400ha going in already, we've really only got a week left of seeding canola and lupins, so we easily hold off on the rest of it until the middle of April."

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While only a few got going last week before ex-Tropical Cyclone Charlotte, it's likely more growers will start getting into their paddocks this week, particularly in the eastern areas which received more rain.

Those growers will look at putting in a percentage of their canola program now, but not all of it, and then they will wait a little for the rest so it spreads the sowing, and therefore risk window out.

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