Crops get back on track after welcome rain

Cally DupeCountryman
Dowerin farmers Josh and Nadine McMorran with their children Kailee, 11, Tenielle, 9, Ciara, 6, and farm dog Max.
Camera IconDowerin farmers Josh and Nadine McMorran with their children Kailee, 11, Tenielle, 9, Ciara, 6, and farm dog Max. Credit: Cally Dupe

It was the cold front these South Dowerin farmers were waiting for — delivering 25mm of rain in two days.

After jagging “bits and pieces” of rain across their 4500ha property this year, Josh and Nadine McMorran were happy to tip an inch out of the rain gauge on Monday.

The property is spread across four different farms up to 25km apart, providing plenty of opportunity for variable rainfall.

After receiving about 20-35mm between May 25-30, the McMorrans’ mixed farm was bolstered by two “dust-settling” rain events in May and June, and 17mm on June 18.

But this week’s rainfall has boosted their spirits and provided welcome relief after they chose to reseed 60ha of barley on June 19.

The 17mm rainfall event the day before proved a double-edged sword as strong winds blew away light parts of a paddock.

“The crop was at the one to two-leaf stage, so it was up and about,” Mr McMorran said.

“But the lighter parts of the paddock with the least amount of cover blew and blew. It filled in the furrow and either cut the plant off or completely buried it.

“It had come up a treat but in a couple of hours it was back to bare ground.”

Mr McMorran said it was the most damaging wind event and the first time he had reseeded any part of a paddock during his 20 years on the farm.

The wind damage, which occurred on sandplain country that had been deep-ripped, was just a small dampener on what the McMorrans hope will be a good season.

Josh and Nadine farm with their three daughters children Kailee, 11, Tenielle, 9, Ciara, 6.

It was a homecoming when Josh returned to the farm after finishing at WA College of Agriculture — Cunderdin in 2000.

After meeting Nadine at a local shindig the pair spent 2007 in Perth and most of 2008 in Kalbarri, before returning, moving back to the McMorrans’ farm for harvest in 2008.

Family matriarch Robert McMorran, Josh’s father, is the livestock manager and has been busy filling lick feeders, and feeding hay and straw since April.

His plan is to keep the cows in top condition during calving, which started at the end of April and finished this week.

There are also two full-time employees, Sloan King and Chris Webb, who Mr McMorran said were invaluable.

About 60 per cent of the McMorrans’ cropping program is wheat, with 1600ha of Sceptre, 650ha of Chief, and 550ha of Zen varieties. The rest includes 300ha of Spartacus barley, 484ha of Trident canola, 191ha of seradella, 622ha Carrolup oats for export hay, and 82ha of Carrolup oats for grain. They are also growing 60ha InterGrain’s new imidazolinone-tolerant variety Maximus for the first time.

The variety, set to one day replace one of WA’s most popular barley varieties Spartacus, will be released commercially next year.

The McMorrans wound back their barley program after China announced tariffs of up to 80 per cent on Australian barley imports.

The announcement prompted not only a nearly instant price drop in May, but a nearly instant change to cropping programs across WA.

The McMorrans substituted 500ha of barley for wheat after the announcement, planting significantly more wheat than barley for the first time in years.

“The feed barley price dropped $50 overnight, so that got us thinking and fortunately we had not put any barley in at the time,” Josh said.

As well as the cropping operation, the McMorrans’ also have 150 breeding cattle — mainly Angus and Murray Grey cross — but they are introducing Simmental genetics.

After selling the last of their sheep in 2008, the McMorrans decided to keep the cattle and targeted producing a 320kg-plus weaner calf for their neighbour’s feedlot.

Josh said they aimed to get a “fast-growing calf on the ground”, without the stress of a “high- maintenance cow to go with it”.

They leave stubbles in the ground after harvest and have a 100ha block of tagasaste to help feed the cattle and cut down the high cost of buying hay and grain.

It was a slightly early start to seeding for the McMorrans, who started the week after Easter — about three weeks earlier than their traditional Anzac Day start.

After finishing seeding on June 10, they were happy to see the bulk of the program germinate within the first week of June and were busy spraying this week.

“We had a look around before jumping in the boom spray, and the paddocks are nice and clean for grass...but radish spray is full steam ahead,” Josh said.

“The crops are fresh and growing at a rapid rate after warm winter weather, nice sunny days and recent rain.”

While forecasts of rain they hoped might deliver some promise in April fizzled out, the McMorrans are feeling relieved after the turn in the season.

They hope the weekend’s rainfall will join up with subsoil moisture deep in the profile from the 60-100mm of summer rain that fell earlier this year, mainly in February.

“Joining that moisture up will give us a little bit more confidence,” Josh said.

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