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Difference is in the soil type

Corrina RidgwayCountryman

Salmon Gums farmers are facing an uncertain harvest, after one of the poorest years of rain on record.

However, some growers have had a late respite, with parts of the district receiving patchy rain up to 50mm over the past two weeks.

Toni Ridgway and Troy Burnside, who farm with Troy's brother, Bob, and his wife Jill, only put in 60 per cent of their planned cropping program this year because of dry conditions and minimal subsoil moisture.

They planted in 1000 hectares each of wheat and barley, and 400ha was divided between peas, canola and vetch.

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Troy said crop performance across the farm's two soil types had varied.

"The heavier country suffers more when it's dry," he said. "Although south-east Salmon Gums, on the lighter country, is a different story."

Wheat and barley on the farm's heavier red loams have suffered, because the lack of decent rainfall prevented the soil profile from wetting through. Hardening of the soil also hindered moisture penetration.

In comparison, crops on sandier loams, which received similar rainfall, were able to take up available moisture.

Well below the area's annual rainfall average of 340mm, Troy has recorded just 122mm for the growing season and 220mm overall. This included falls of 5-18mm on October 2 and 20-31mm on October 12.

Last week's storm activity was the first over-20mm rainfall event noted on the farm since January 2009.

Before the rain, they were unlikely to put a header in some of the barley.

"Some of the barley may respond but I don't know what it'll do - we will go from nothing to something. It will be up with some of the worst yields we have had," he said.

Troy said the situation for growers north-east of Salmon Gums was "still pretty crook" and some crops may not be harvested.

Frost events mid-season have also added to the tough season, with the farm experiencing two consecutive nights of -3C.

Troy said they expected to start harvesting peas in two weeks and cereals in mid-November.

Providing water for the farm's 3500 Merinos has been a concern, but last week's rain filled dams that had been devoid of water for months.

Troy believes they should be able to carry their stock through summer without carting water.

Out of the 3500 Merinos on the farm, 1000 ewes and lambs will be sold, however, this decision was more management related than driven by the dry conditions. "We will be down to our core breeding stock, but won't get rid of anything else," Troy said.

Fast facts *

_WHO: _ Bob, Jill and Troy Burnside and Toni Ridgway

_WHERE: _ Salmon Gums

_WHAT: _2400 hectares or rotational cropping and 3500 Merinos

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