Dry June puts dampener on grower expectations

Jo FulwoodCountryman

June rainfall records have tumbled across the agricultural region.

Many parts of the area had their lowest rainfall for the month since records began.

Bureau of Meteorology reports show 72 official weather stations have logged their lowest June rainfall ever recorded.

Northam recorded just 5.6mm for the month, the lowest since records started in 1877, against a June average of just under 80mm.

Other Wheatbelt towns received even less. Coorow recorded just 0.5mm and Perenjori 0.6mm.

According to BOM, the month was "extraordinarily dry" in the south because of a lack of strong cold frontal activity.

Climate services manager Glenn Cook said the early indications were that there would be no decent rainfall in the coming week.

"There are other suggestions that this pattern may continue into July," he said. "Unless we see the second half of July returning to normal activity we could see a dry July as well."

But Mr Cook said the July to September outlook was quite positive for the agricultural region - there was a 60 per cent to 70 per cent chance of above-average rainfall for that period.

"Suggestions are that August and September may be quite good in terms of rainfall, but that may be too late for some," he said.

Wongan Hills farmer Jemma Sadler said her crops were starting to look patchy after just 3mm of rain in June.

She said the yield potential was diminishing each day without rain.

"We've had late starts before but I've never seen a June like this," Ms Sadler said.

"May was really good for us, in terms of getting enough rain to get the crop in, but I've never seen a June that has been so dry."

Ms Sadler said the 3mm of rain was the lowest since recordings on her home property began in 1952.

Previously, 2010 was the driest June when just 17mm fell.

"There isn't much moisture left for us any more, unfortunately," she said. "But we understand there are a lot of farmers worse off than us further east."

Nick Gillett, who farms 6600 hectares north of Bencubbin, said June had been "very ordinary" with only 6mm falling last month.

His property received less than 30mm in April, May and June.

Mr Gillett said 30 per cent of his crop had not yet germinated.

"And I don't hold a lot of hope for what has come up," he said. "It could be our worst year looking forward if it doesn't rain soon.

"Some of the crop in patches is outstanding, it's managed to tap into the moisture and it's looking good, but in the same paddock we have crop that hasn't even germinated. I haven't seen crops like this before.

"Even in 2010 we still managed to get all our crop up.

"We don't want to write off the season too early, but obviously that confidence is going to diminish as we go into July. The crops aren't getting much of a chance."

In Narembeen, Tim Cusack said his property received just 5mm for the month, but above average rainfall throughout the summer months had resulted in good subsoil moisture.

"We had above average rain over summer until May," he said. "I can still find the moisture there, but it's a little bit too deep unfortunately.

"All of our crops that went in before June are up and away. It's really only been in the last two weeks where things have started to look pretty dry."

Pithara grower Gary Butcher said his property received only 2.2mm in June.

"In terms of the growth stage, the crops are ahead of last year," he said. "We didn't even get rain until June 7 in 2012. I would imagine this time last year we didn't have some crop out of the ground.

"All is not lost yet. But it's like not kicking a goal since the first quarter, now we have to work really hard in the final quarter."

Paul Kelly, who farms 20km west of Mingenew, said despite receiving only 3mm in June - his lowest amount since recordings began in 1900 - he was still confident.

"The crops are looking surprisingly good," he said. "On the poorer country, at midday they lie down and look pretty awful, but because we had a very good May and March, that's held us in good stead."

Mr Cook said there was no clear reason why the cold fronts were weaker in June.

"The climate in the South West has changed since the late 1960s and mid 1970s, moving into a much drier regime," he said.

"In the last 15 years we've seen a decline even further and so it's quite common to get a dry month in winter these days with weak cold fronts.

"As to why the past June and the start of July in particular have seen such weak fronts, we can't say."

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