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Nungarin season hangs in the balance

Jo FulwoodCountryman
Camera IconNungarin farmer Andrew Coumbe checks over his Cobbler canola which was sown on May 6. Credit: Danella Bevis/Countryman

For Nungarin farmer Andrew Coumbe, the season sits on a knife-edge.

Predicted rainfall this week could be a turning point for his farming business and could help his wheat crops achieve their two-tonne-a-hectare potential.

However, missing out on this rain could also mean a lean year.

Mr Coumbe, who farms with his parents Gary and Helen, said despite more than 300mm of unseasonal summer rainfall, his property only received 27mm for the April to June period.

His last significant rainfall event was on August 8, when 13mm fell on his 5200 hectare property, of which 4450ha are arable.

However, he said summer crops were not the answer.

"Given the amount of rainfall last summer, we have thought of summer crops, but we can't afford a failure," Mr Coumbe said.

"The rain is not consistent enough, you can't rely on it.

"We also believe that we would dry the soil profile out too much.

"Because we have a lot of clay country, it stores water pretty well and we hope to try and use that in our winter crop.

"We didn't get enough rain when we were seeding to really establish our crop well."

Mr Coumbe said 30 per cent of the cropped land was on heavy red soil, and if the rain did not eventuate, he would not bother putting the harvester into those paddocks.

"All of the early-sown crops on the lighter and medium soils, are looking OK so far," he said.

"The canola is not looking too bad, we are hoping it will go 0.7 or 0.8t/ha, and we normally budget on 0.5t/ha.

"But the temperature reached 26.5 degrees last weekend, so that knocked things around a bit.

"If it doesn't rain we probably won't harvest the later-sown crops that are on the red heavy soils."

Mr Coumbe said diversification was the key to remaining viable, particularly in the eastern Wheatbelt.

He also runs 600 lambing ewes, but believes there will be other opportunities for the region in the future.

Mr Coumbe said while lower rainfall was one of the biggest challenges facing the business, weeds were also an issue.

"We've just changed our lupin rotation to a canola rotation," he said.

"We can achieve the same agronomic benefits with canola but we have the opportunity to use some different chemistry on the crop.

"It also gives those paddocks a disease break.

"We have a lot of trouble killing radish."

Mr Coumbe is considering hiring backpackers to hand-pick radish.

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