Keen but cautious at Kukerin

Rueben HaleCountryman

Kukerin grower Andrew Lee said the season has been in “fast-forward” this year after months of early and solid rains.

Mr Lee, who has had more than 200mm of rain for the year, has also enjoyed top-up rains experienced last week, which has helped the family wind up its seeding program more than a fortnight early.

The “made-to-order” start to the season is the earliest the family has ever started seeding in an area well known for unpredictable conditions and late-seasonal rains.

The mixed enterprise farm has had 42mm of rain for May, after getting solid downpours of 49mm in April, 59mm in March and a staggering 58mm in late February.

This year Mr Lee said most of the mated ewes had been put into a mob of 3000-head in a move to rotationally graze pastures rather than set stock grazing".

“Traditionally, rains in late February to early March would be a false break for us, but this year we’ve had solid early rainfall that has just carried on,” he said. “This has meant not only a great head start for the crops, but also we’ve been able to set aside some good areas for pasture and graze the sheep on them in rotation for 10 days at a time.”

Mr Lee said this year he has made only minor changes to his wheat, canola, barley, oats and export-hay cropping program.

“The crops are tearing along and look clean because they’re outgrowing anything that is likely to germinate, whereas when the moisture is marginal it can be a struggle to keep the crops in front of the weeds.”

“I’ve planted more canola and oats because of good and consistent prices and to minimise the risk of frost damage prone to the area,” he said. I think canola will remain a major part of the crop rotation for the farm into the future.”

Mr Lee said he was not ready to start talking about a record crop for the year just yet.

“There is definite optimism about us having a record year, but we’re still wary of getting too excited just yet because last year was shaping up well and then we had some days of 36 degrees that really hurt the crop and then it was followed up with significant frost damage,” he said.

“It all comes down to how good spring is, which finally determines how good the season will be.”

“But looking at extended weather forecasts to the end of July it looks a bit dubious, but forecast have shown in the past to be the reverse of what actually happens.”

Mr Lee said the Wheatbelt's unpredictable seasonal conditions had made good farming decisions difficult in the past.

“Livestock and crops need to have consistent rains to do well,” he said. “When you are unsure what the rainfall is likely to be it is very difficult to know when the right to plant crops or change the grazing system for your sheep.

“This has been our major headache for the last 15 years with making good decisions when you just don’t know how much rain there will be for the season.”

Mr Lee said his plan for the future is to retain the current enterprise mixture.

“Currently we grain and graze 25 percent of the farm with sheep and wheat and then the other parts of the farm are continuously cropped and then sown with hay to clean up paddocks,” he said.

“The sheep market is building with solid meat and wool prices, but I would be reluctant to change the mix because of the volatility of the market,” he said.

“The prices of wool and and lamb would have to rise significantly and and stay solid for me to consider altering the mix of the enterprise in that direction.”

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