After two consecutive record harvests, WA grain growers are bracing for a dry start to the year amid early forecasts of less rainfall for the 2023 growing season. The latest long-range forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology, released on February 16, predicts a 60 to 80 per cent chance of below median rainfall for much of WA except northern parts of the State from March to May. Maximum temperatures over those three months were also “likely to very likely” to be warmer than median for most of Australia, except inland areas of the northern tropics and central parts of the NSW coast. “This forecast reflects the status and outlook for several climate drivers, including a declining La Niña,” a BOM spokesperson said. According to the Grain Industry Association of WA’s latest crop report, released February 17, sub-soil moisture levels are good for central and southern regions of the State. However, crop report author Michael Lamond noted the recent climate prognosis was “shifting rapidly back to a more normal scenario” of less rainfall for the 2023 growing season. “For many growers in the lower rainfall regions, there will be a pulling back in area cropped,” he said. “This will be largely dependent on the timing of the break to the season.” In higher rainfall areas, Mr Lamond said there be would more of an enterprise shift rather than a significant change in area cropped. “There may even be a slight increase in cropped area due to the current low sheep prices,” he said. According to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, dry conditions have prevailed over most of WA’s agricultural areas during summer to date, with some locations receiving heavier falls due to thunderstorms. DPIRD senior research scientist Ian Foster said daytime temperatures had been above normal away from WA’s south coast, although with fewer extremes. “Strong high-pressure systems have generated persistent easterly winds, with fewer west coast heat troughs,” Dr Foster said. “Last year, summer was similarly dry but much hotter in the west. “There has been little rain in February to date, and while the end of the month may see some rain, monthly total rain is likely to remain below normal. “Soil water storage is generally low for shallow depths, but according to DPIRD soil moisture probes, water remains at depth.” Dr Foster said the March rain outlook was neutral but noted it was a traditionally dry month. Looking further ahead, he said climate models indicated below normal rain was more likely from April to June. “This is different from the outlooks for the same time in 2022,” he said. “Predicted atmospheric pressure patterns show higher pressure south of WA, which is a plausible driver for lower rainfall over southern WA at that time.” Climate models were also predicting the development of an El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean, and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole event in the Indian Ocean from June onwards, Dr Foster said. He said the combined impact of the concurrent events could suppress rainfall over much of Australia including south west WA. “The start to the 2023 growing season is likely to be different from last year, which had above-average rain over March and April,” Dr Foster said. “Possible implications are patchy sowing and crop emergence opportunities, with soils that are dry at seeding depth.” While 2022 was not an exceptional year for rain, that which did fall came at the right time for the State’s grain growers. In the Mid West, high yearly rainfall totals were recorded at localities including Eneabba (618mm), Warradarge (East) (705mm), Badgingarra (696mm) and Dandaragan (East) (603mm). In the Central Wheatbelt and surrounds, good falls were recorded at Moora (581mm), Bindi Bindi (451mm), Koorda (457mm), York (East) (475mm), Kellerberrin (456mm), Corrigin (East) (505mm), Babakin (482mm) and Shackleton (469mm). Further south, Katanning recorded 500mm, Condingup 659mm, Jerramungup 568mm, Mount Barker 708mm, Narrikup 701mm and Manypeaks 775mm.