Esperance at tipping point with rains

Dorothy HendersonCountryman
For Esperance children like Richard Henderson, the rain brings puddles to explore: every cloud has a silver lining, and Munglinup farmers experiencing wetter than normal conditions are still hoping for sunshine and good yields.
Camera IconFor Esperance children like Richard Henderson, the rain brings puddles to explore: every cloud has a silver lining, and Munglinup farmers experiencing wetter than normal conditions are still hoping for sunshine and good yields. Credit: Countryman

Like farmers everywhere, those in the Esperance region are reluctant to call for a halt to rainfall — but many in the area are keen to see a few days of sunshine as overcast days and showers conspire to keep paddocks wet and some crops underwater.

Efforts to cart fertiliser to farms and transport stock from properties have been temporarily hampered, with the Esperance Shire Council imposing a five-tonne limit on all unsealed roads throughout the Shire of Esperance because of heavy rainfall in the area, a decision due to be reviewed later in the week.

The limit was set in an effort to prevent widespread damage to the extensive network of roads in the region, with the Shire council responsible for the maintenance of 3745km of unsealed roads.

Aus Stock Transport livestock transport co-ordinator Peter Holdman said that the weight limit placedon vehicles on unsealed roads in the region had not hampered pick-ups too much, with farmers already having cancelled loads that were to be collected from farms with unsealed access.

But while the rain that has fallen during the last week may have compounded problems some Munglinup farmers are experiencing in their efforts to complete their cropping programs, the wetter conditions may have boosted yield expectations for growers further inland in areas such as Salmon Gums, Beaumont and Condingup.

In the first week of July, the Bureau of Meteorology recorded 14mm of rain in the Munglinup area, an amount that followed from 76.8mm in June and 74.8mm in May, and which brought the total rainfall for the year so far to 387.8mm.

In contrast, Esperance Downs Research Station has recorded 277.8mm for the year, and Salmon Gums Research Station has received 230mm to date.

Neridup farmer Colin de Grussa said that his farm was one of the many in the region that could do with a couple of weeks of sunshine, with the recent 20mm of rain received on the property almost making it too wet.

Nevertheless, he said that the start to the season had been a good one.

Esperance-based Farmanco consultant Gerard Birbeck said that just as the rainfall received was variable, so too was the impact that recent rains would have on farmers.

“The recent rains are more likely to have been of benefit to farmers in the low-rainfall zone such as Salmon Gums, Beaumont and even in the high-rainfall zone such as Condingup, but it’s a fine line between just enough and too much,” he said.

Even along the sandplain, some farmers may have viewed last week’s rains as a nuisance: others would have received them gratefully as the increased moisture level either tipped their paddocks towards being waterlogged, or increased the chances of a good crop.

“East of Esperance, past Condingup, BoM figures indicated that the season had been quite dry, with below-average rainfall received,” Mr Birbeck said.

“These recent rains may have set some of those properties up for a good year.”

Mr Birbeck said that in most cases the increased yield, as a result of good rains, would outweigh damage caused by waterlogging and negate any negative impacts on the overall deliveries made to CBH.

He said that farmers who had had trouble getting their cropping program completed would be faced with having to decide whether or not it was worth continuing to try to get a crop in on waterlogged ground.

In terms of expected yields for 2016, Mr Birbeck said that farmers in the region tended to be flexible in terms of their yield forecasts.

He said that crop performance in recent years and changing situations had taught them to adapt their expectations in accordance with what was happening on the ground.

“The year 2013 was a good one for most, 2014 was an average season, 2015 was a good production season apart from the fires and high winds which caused significant yield loss,” he said.

Last week, the plight of Munglinup farmers was brought to the attention of the media when Peter Kirchner posted a photo to Facebook of swans floating on a body of water on his property, 10km north of the Munglinup townsite.

At the time, Mr Kirchner expressed frustration that every time the paddocks started to dry out, rain fell and topped up the moisture level again.

Despite having reseeded once already, he said that he was “not giving up” and was determined to complete his cropping program of more than 5000ha, with canola, barley and wheat in the mix.

WhenCountryman spoke to Mr Kirchner late last week, he said that he was not proud of the fact that reseeding had been necessary, and that with more rain on the horizon, he was not sure when the last of the crop would go in.

Some farmers in the region have said they were considering spreading fertiliser from the air, even though they may not have done so before, simply to get around the wet conditions that have made accessing paddocks difficult.

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