Smiles greet rain in Esperance area

Dorothy HendersonThe West Australian
Seeding continues at The Oaks, near Esperance. Property manager Nick Ruddenklau, son Drew Ruddenklau, 4, and Gerren Goodwin take a break from sowing canola.
Camera IconSeeding continues at The Oaks, near Esperance. Property manager Nick Ruddenklau, son Drew Ruddenklau, 4, and Gerren Goodwin take a break from sowing canola. Credit: Dorothy Henderson

In the State’s south-east, the sweet sound of rain gently falling on the roof on Monday night and early on Tuesday morning brought smiles to the faces of farmers who had forged ahead with their 2017 cropping program, even as the dust was starting to swirl behind their seeding rigs.

With soil moisture levels still at an acceptable level in the wake of February’s flooding rains, people like Nick Ruddenklau, who manages The Oaks, a 5000ha mixed Gibson farming property owned by J.A. Russell Australia, were keen for a “touch of rain” to boost their hopes for a good season.

When Countryman visited The Oaks in February Mr Ruddenklau was contemplating the damage done by the 125mm of rain that had fallen in one rain event, transforming the Dalyup rivers into wild streams that had washed away crossings. At the time, the property had received 180mm of its annual 525mm rainfall.

Two months later, there are still some large puddles in some paddocks but the subsoil moisture level has allowed Mr Ruddenklau to proceed with the planned cropping program; 1700ha of canola, wheat and barley. So far 150ha of long-season canola is in the ground.

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While waterlogging was a concern in February, at the time he said the tendency of the area to get saturated meant that a slightly below-average rainfall for winter would probably benefit that particular property.

The dry weather since then meant that by Monday night he was keen to see 10mm of rain to keep his optimism level high.

The Oaks is a mixed farming enterprise, with canola, wheat and barley grown and sheep grazed on pastures and stubble.

To Esperance’s north, Salmon Gums farmer Rory Graham and his family are into their 2017 cropping program, with plans to put in about 1000ha of canola, 2500ha of barley, 4000ha of wheat and 1000ha of peas.

Mr Graham said the 100mm of rain received in February had been a boost , with the nice soaking rain causing no flooding, but “germinating every weed possible”, meaning that spraying has been constant since then as the family worked to conserve the moisture level in the soil.

This effort appears to have been rewarded and while there hasn’t been a great deal of rain recorded since, with about 6mm falling in to the gauge during the last week, the “little dribbles” might be enough to do the job.

“It depends a bit on the season, but there might be enough to get some of the seeds going,” he said.

Peas have been included in the rotation in a quest to maintain crop and soil health.

While canola has returned a profit at times of depressed cereal prices, Mr Graham said the crop was hard on the land. With the inclusion of a legume crop in the rotation, the ground is refreshed and the nitrogen level given a boost.

East of Esperance, at Howick, Andrew Fowler and his family are two-thirds of the way through their extensive cropping program which consists of 50 per cent canola and 50 per cent wheat and barley.

Mr Fowler said that so far 6-11mm had fallen over the family's holdings this week but the 275mm of rain received during February and March had enabled their seeding program to get off to a good start.

The focus has also been on pasture, with 1000ha of serradella, barley and tetraploid ryegrass all in the mix.

Mr Fowler said that over half of the crops going in this season would be grazed by cattle and sheep.

In 2011, Mr Fowler as named Grain Grower of the Year in the Kondinin Group and ABC Rural Farmer of the Year Awards in recognition of his management of the cropping side of his family's farm, which at the time covered 16,500ha.

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