Decent drop makes difference

Headshot of Jenne Brammer
Jenne BrammerThe West Australian

Wilgoyne farmer Steve Palm is relishing the sight of his green healthy crops, amid his wettest season in almost two decades.

Mr Palm, who farms with wife Linda and son Ryan, has so far had 320mm of rain for the year, including 100mm from the big rainfall event that drenched the Wheatbelt four weeks ago, and 15mm over the past week. Further rain was forecast for this weekend.

This compares to an average of just 110mm for the whole growing season in 2012, 2013 and 2014, causing the Palm family at times to plant only half their usual cropping program.

In those years some paddocks were not harvested because of a lack of crop, and yields on what was harvested were dire, averaging just 0.5-0-6 tonnes/ha.

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"The last 16 years have been pretty tough, with the exception of 2011, which was not particularly wet but what rainfall did arrive was very timely," Mr Palm said.

This season, because of the abundant rain, the Palms' 4500ha wheat cropping program is looking good.

He said the last time they had as much rain was back in 1999.

Although April and May this season were dry, with just 20mm received over that nine-week period, the Palms' crops, which were sown in May, have since managed to regain ground.

"We had 20mm in mid-June which really got things started," he said.

Although reluctant to forecast yields, Mr Palm said he would be happy with an average of 1.2t/ha.

He said he would need just another 10-15mm around mid-September for this to be achieved (unless conditions were exceptionally hot), though more would be welcome.

Meanwhile, all dams are full and the family's sheep have more feed than they can possibly eat, Mr Palm said.

"We are feeling pretty optimistic, as is the whole district," Mr Palm said.

"Everybody around this way has a smile on their face."

Mr Palm is now pinning his hopes on a recovery in the wheat price, back to above $300 tonne.

Plan farm consultant Glen Brayshaw said good follow-up rains since the big downpour a month ago continued to boost the prospects for this season's crops.

Over the seven days to 9am Monday, Westonia had 21mm, Wongan Hills 24mm, Bencubbin 28mm, and Wyalkatchem 18mm, according to Bureau of Meteorology.

Further north, Three Springs had 22mm, Eradu 22mm, Northampton 19mm, and Mullewa 14mm, bureau figures show.

But Mr Brayshaw cautioned that across the Wheatbelt there were small pockets of crops sown early on weak soils, where yield potential was already set and these rains were unlikely to have a beneficial impact.

"For later-sown crops these follow- on rains would be helping to improve yield potential, but for a smaller number of others it will not be making much of a difference," he said.

"My view is that overall the recent rains have meant we have gone from a potentially below average to potentially average season."

Mr Brayshaw said he was pleased areas on the eastern fringe of the Wheatbelt that had missed out on decent rains in recent years were having a particularly good season this year.

But he said with the extremely wet conditions over recent weeks, the presence of powdery mildew and bugs was high and that it was worth spending the money to get these under control.

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