Heavy rains in September-October could salvage season

Rueben HaleThe West Australian
Darkan farmer Ray Harrington says he is hopeful the season will finish with some higher than average rainfall.
Camera IconDarkan farmer Ray Harrington says he is hopeful the season will finish with some higher than average rainfall. Credit: Rueben Hale

Darkan farmer Ray Harrington is relieved at last week’s rains, saying they have averted plans to explore other contingencies in the worst start to the season since 2000.

Mr Harrington and son-in-law Tim have continued to rebuild a flock of 3000 Merino sheep amongst 1000ha of canola and 1600ha of barley planted this year.

For the Harrington farm, it seemed as though the heavy rains to hit Wandering and other southern areas were not going to reach them this season.

“It was a big circle, and we were on the outer edge of that circle,” Mr Harrington said.

“It hasn’t been like that here for 17 seasons when it rained across the State on the last day of June.”

Mr Harrington said they set up early to sow canola in late April. He says canola and barley are the only game in town as far as he was concerned.

“Anyone that tries to grow wheat south of the Great Eastern Highway will be half tonne short to the hectare,” he said.

“Tim wanted to go back to wheat, and it only lasted a couple of years before he decided not to grow it again.

“We just can’t get the yield. If we’re half tonne short and there is $30 to $40 difference between crops we’re better off growing barley.”

Mr Harrington said well below average rainfall in April and June would need to be compensated by some heavy September to October downpours to deliver average yields.

In total, they have had 107mm summer rains before receiving 76mm in May and 17mm in July so far.

“Statistics do not support my hopes because in my experience if it is dry at the start of the season it will be dry at the end,” Mr Harrington said.

“That means it will be a double whammy.

“But as it stands everything seems to have joined up and the only thing holding us back is non-wetting in heavy gravel which has prevented plants from establishing properly.”

Mr Harrington said he looked forward to pastures recovering over the next few months to feed sheep.

“Once you’ve got back into sheep you have got to keep going,” he said.

“When I sold my 12,500 sheep 19 years ago I said I believed the wool industry would not recover for 20 years. If I’d gone with my gut, I would have gone back into them earlier, and now they are too dear to get into.”

Mr Harrington said they planned to rebuild the flock by 500 each year.

“We have purchased some stock at a very high price, but we will grow the flock each year by breeding our own sheep,” he said.

Mr Harrington hopes to stagger a turn-off of 2000 lambs this year for various markets.

“The airfreight option will probably be a big one this year because of limited feed availability in many areas around the State,” he said.

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