Beacon of hope for much better season

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Cally DupeThe West Australian
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James Grant at Beacon.
Camera IconJames Grant at Beacon. Credit: Cally Dupe

It has been a tough 12 months for Beacon farmers Tom and James Grant — their dams had been drying up until a few days ago.

But last week’s rain has the father-and-son grain and sheep producers optimistic 2018 could be a much better season.

The Grants farm about 6000ha across five properties north of the Wheatbelt’s farthest north-easterly town, about 330km north-east of Perth.

Bordering with station country, the area is one of the Wheatbelt’s most marginal for rainfall.

In recent years, the Grants’ dams have hardly had a good rain.

“It had been threatening and not raining and just when everyone thought ‘here we go again’, all of a sudden it decided to rain,” James said. “It really started in the early hours of Monday (January 29) morning. We got 40mm on one farm and more than 50mm at another.”

Last Monday’s downpour was the first decent rain the farmers had received since February 2016, when they got just 30mm, ahead of the farm’s driest winter in history.

But hot conditions and summer rainfall has James feeling hopeful for the year ahead. “There is something in this weather that makes it feel like something is happening,” he said.

“Years ago, when we first came up here, every summer was scorching hot and every year was good.”

Since January 1, Beacon itself has recorded more than 100mm — useful rain which local farmers hope could set them up for a good year.

James said while the early soaking had created subsoil moisture, it needed to keep raining to be useful at seeding.

Dams across all of his family’s farms, key to watering their 1600 sheep, were at their fullest in two decades this week. It means the farmers will not have to pump scheme water this year — a welcome saving after a financially difficult 2017. The farmers sold 900 sheep last year because of drought.

Tom Grant has been farming at Beacon since 1992, when he seized the offer of cheaper land and moved from Kojonup.

He said the family was feeling optimistic after the rain.

“We don’t actually need a lot of rain here, 300mm will do it, but it just needs to fall at the right time,” Tom said. “We hope the rain will keep on going. That’s what every farmer hopes.”

WAFarmers president Tony York said the rain from ex-cyclone Joyce would be welcomed by farmers.

“The soaking rains should keep the ground fairly moist in anticipation of seeding in a few months,” he said.

“So when coupled with opening rains over the next couple of months, it should ... set up the year nicely.

“We will wait another few days for a good germination of weeds and then we will start spraying,” James said.

“We’ll be spraying flat out, but we are happy it has rained.”

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