Big wet leads to crop washouts

Corrina RidgwayCountryman

Continuing wet conditions in the coastal regions of Esperance are causing widespread crop loss and infrastructure damage.

Farm and General agronomist Andrew Heinrich believes the affected area is extensive.

"All the coastal sandplain has been affected, from Ravensthorpe to East Condingup," he said.


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"There are some areas of complete loss of paddocks due to inundation and waterlogging. In other places, it is just low-lying hollows. It is dependent on the topography."

Areas east of Esperance have been most affected, with water pooling in paddocks and soil profiles at full saturation.

Farms south of Fisheries Road in the Condingup, Beaumont, Neridup and Merivale areas are facing large areas of crop loss.

Canola and barley plantings have been hit hardest.

Rain events over 21 days in August totalled 145mm, just 0.4mm behind the wettest month on record for Esperance set in 1984.

Mild, overcast conditions have done little to alleviate the damp, with producers equating conditions to that of the record 1989 wet.

However, runoff levels are believed to be greater, causing significant degradation because of larger broadacre cropping regimes in the region.

Lack of pasture has decreased moisture uptake and the resulting watershed has been significant.

A 30mm rain event on August 16 caused significant runoff damage. Consequently, runoff has been damaging pastures and eroding roads in rain events of as little as 5mm.

Gravel roads in the region have become impassable at several points as watersheds rip away surfaces, which is a concern for harvest access.

Condingup farmer Daniel Styles, who farms with brother David and parents Graham and Linda, believes it is the wettest season he has experienced to date.

Starting on May 2, the family sowed 240 hectares on their rotational crop and stock program, comprising 80ha of Crusher canola and 160ha of Hindmarsh and Baudin barley.

A total of 465mm of rain was recorded to the end of August.

"The farm (yearly) average is 525mm but the last few years we have had an average of about 400mm," Mr Styles said.

"The last seven years we have had summer rain and I'd expect that to continue this year."

Mr Styles said he would not be surprised to record above-average rainfall come year end.

The property's deep sand to sand-over-clay soil structure is generally not prone to waterlogging, however, the profile is now beyond saturation point.

"All the crops have been affected by waterlogging to some degree," Mr Styles said.

"Even though it's a sandy block, we can write off about 10 per cent completely - it will equate to maybe a tonne in yield."

In a back paddock, a metre-deep gutter several metres wide has cut a 200m-long chasm through the family's canola crop.

It has effectively split the paddock into two.

"It's starting to take the fence out now. We will have to fill it all in after harvest," Mr Styles said.

Although many producers in the area have attempted to reseed affected areas, some have found paddocks too wet to even begin the reseeding schedule.

"I was going to reseed some areas but it has been too wet to get it all done," Mr Styles said.

"Some Hindmarsh that has been reseeded is still no good. It just hasn't dried out.

"I have sown some ryegrass where it's been really wet for the stock."

With harvest fast approaching, Mr Heinrich said it was now too late to take preventative measures.

"Crops affected are well and truly dead and it's just too wet to contemplate reseeding in a lot of areas," he said.

"Some producers who have drainage plans in place are a little better off."

Harvest will start as early as mid- October for some producers.

The possibly of turning the deluge into dollars has surfaced, with discussion of summer crops. Talk of sorghum and sunflowers may result in paddocks of red and gold in early 2014.

The Styles have not planned for any large-scale summer sowing.

"We may sow a little sorghum for the cattle," Mr Styles said.

"Next year could be dry though, so we would like to keep some moisture level in the profile."

All has not been lost though. Because of the sandier profile, crops that are not low-lying are cause to smile.

"Our canola looks better than last year and although the barley is probably worse, I'm really happy with how the Hindmarsh has performed," Mr Styles said.

"We may have to swathe it because it is so tall and heavy."

Yield-wise, it's an unknown season.

"We have been cropping for five years and have never had a wet finish, so it's hard to tell," Mr Styles said.

"I would be happy with three tonnes over the barley and 1.2 tonne/ha for the canola."

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