WA’s sunny spell set to continue into the winter as farmers sow dry soil

Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
Email Jenne Brammer

Most WA farmers are sowing their crops into dry soil after a lack of April showers, and have been warned to brace for below-average rainfall in coming months.

An unusually high number of Australian and international forecasts expect below average rain in coming months, driven by a predicted El Nino event and the emergence of a positive Indian Ocean Dipole, according to the Department of Agriculture and Food WA.

But despite the dry conditions, the State is still on track to achieve good yields this year after generous summer rains which have built up beneficial subsoil moisture.

Planfarm consultant Glen Brayshaw said many farmers had started planting their crops into dry soil, and were eager to get some rain to ensure an even germination.

“They are getting a bit concerned for the crops that have germinated because it’s been a while between rainfall events, but for the majority of the crop still to be planted they won’t start to panic for another month — given the traditional break to the season is in late May,” he said.

“Farmers received good amounts of rainfall over summer and have done a good job of conserving this moisture by controlling weeds.

“That moisture won’t be available to the crops until there is some additional rainfall, so the farmers do need rains early in the season to get the crops established, but this subsoil moisture will help as the crops grow and that has provided a big confidence boost.”

They won’t start to panic for another month — given the traditional break to the season is in late May.

Des O'Connell, with son-in-law Frank Chia and daughter Kerryn Chia, prepare for seeding on the family farm at Duranillin.
Camera IconDes O'Connell, with son-in-law Frank Chia and daughter Kerryn Chia, prepare for seeding on the family farm at Duranillin. Credit: The West Australian

Duranillin farmer Frank Chia plans to start dry seeding the family’s 1150ha crop in coming days planting canola.

The family received just 1mm in April, compared with a monthly average 31mm, and there is no rain on the horizon.

“It is not panic stations yet — we have a few weeks before we will really start worrying — it’s after mid-May when things get critical,” he said. “Summer rains of 81mm have helped put moisture in the soil but it would certainly be a big relief to see some rain forecast to get the crop started.”

The lack of rain is also a concern for sheep feed.

By this time of year farmers can usually rely on germinated pasture, but many, including Mr Chia, are still hand feeding their livestock.

Mr Brayshaw said a handful of farmers were in much better positions after isolated strips of thunderstorms last weekend.

Farmers around Tammin, Kellerberrin and Corrigin registered falls of between 15 and 130mm.

Although in the minority, farmers who received these rains are well on track to achieving bumper yields this season.

The Grains Industry Association of WA forecast in its April crop report WA’s farmers would plant about 7.58 million hectares of crop this year.

With the exception of canola, grain prices remain at multi-year lows, particularly for wheat, which will have a big impact on farmers’ profitability this year.

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