Dry spell worries Miling famers

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Round Hill farmer Richard Humphry, like many other WA growers, is looking skyward in the hope rain arrives soon.

Mr Humphry, who farms with wife Angela, said his crops looked good, but he was concerned about how long they could hang on, given rain was not forecast for the next 10 days.

"This cropping season has a lot of potential, but that potential is declining with every dry week," he said.

He said canola and barley were withstanding the dryness, but in some areas wheat, sown last in the program, was already looking patchy.

Of more immediate concern is the impact the dry conditions are having on pastures.

However, because of a decision to defer grazing over autumn, he is hoping pastures will be able to hang on until more rain arrives.

Mr Humphry said he increased his grain feeding during April and also grazed sheep on 80ha of established saltbush during the autumn.

These activities enabled his pasture paddocks to have a rest and produce more robust pastures.

As a result, clover and barley grass still look considerably good and are providing a reasonable source of feed.

Mr Humphry, whose farming philosophy centres on keeping it simple, said he planned for lambs to drop in July, which was likely to prove particularly beneficial this year.

"We do the late lambing as this is the most efficient way to match the maximum green feed to the highest demand," he said.

"With current dry conditions, we are very fortunate our lambs won't be arriving in coming weeks."

To also help overcome the scarce feed supply, it is likely Mr Humphry will have his sheep graze crops this year.

"We will be grazing crops as a source of food, but it's vital to do this carefully," he said.

"You can't set and forget; we will need to watch carefully to ensure it's not overdone."

Despite this option, he said it was inevitable there would be increased demand for hand feeding this year.

Mr Humphry, who is treasurer of the Moora Miling Pasture Improvement Group and a member of the Lifetime Ewe Group, said about 30 per cent of his land was dedicated to sheep and the remainder cropping.

This year he planted 100ha of Bonito canola and 1000ha of cereals, including Mace wheat and Bass and Scope barley.

With the help of contract worker Andrew Fry, of New Zealand, Mr Humphry started seeding in late April after opening rains in early April of 19mm.

A timely 20mm fell in mid-May.

About 40mm of February rain also helped build up the subsoil moisture.

"The first half of seeding was very dry and dusty, but we had good subsoil moisture and rains during May which vindicated our decision to push on with the seeding," he said.

"I'm also very confident about our weed control this year as a result of the early rains."

Mr Humphry runs 4000 sheep with a bloodline from neighbouring Cranmore Park.

Mr Humphry, who shears his flock in February, said he was pleased about the higher wool price, though he had sold all of this year's wool back in April so he did not personally benefit.

"I'm very pleased for the people who are getting the higher prices now," he said.

"But whether these prices are sustained in the longer term is in the hands of the Chinese, who buy 80 per cent of our wool. Hopefully the strong demand continues into the future."

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