Dry spell hits WA crops

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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The driest September since 2010 has put a dampener on the State's farming prospects for 2015, causing a sell-off in sheep in some areas due to lack of feed and downgrades in the estimates of the State's total grain harvest.

Bureau of Meteorology climate liaison officer Glenn Cooke said September had been the driest since 2010, and the seventh driest since records began in 1900.

He said with no real chance of significant rainfall within the next week, the first half of October also looked like being drier than average.

The dry conditions have forced some farmers to sell sheep, a flood of stock onto the market reducing prices.

Mutton prices have reportedly dropped from about $75 three weeks ago to about $50 now.

Wagin farmer and local Shire president Phillip Blight said a particularly dry spring had meant feed and stock water was critically low and he would look to reduce his wether lambs by half.

"Our feed reserves at the end of the spring flush are no better than the start of the spring flush, so we are going to have to reduce stock," he said.

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of farmers in the same position and the amount of stock coming onto the market is forcing prices down."

WAMMCO International group chief executive Coll MacRury said a lot of stock was currently being processed which was having a small downward impact on lamb and mutton prices.

However, he said there was also a trend for farmers in wetter areas, particularly in the South West, to restock with sheep from those in drier areas, planning to sell them in February or March.

Meanwhile, the Grains Industry Association of WA has slightly reduced its total harvest estimate for the 2015 year after the dry September.

GIWA now estimates total grain production of 14.867 million tonnes for the State, down from 15.135 million tonnes a month before.

It has warned that harvest totals could come down further when harvest starts in earnest and the full impact of the dry spring, particularly in the Geraldton zone, and the impact of frosts in the Albany zone, is known.

"September has been a very dry month and crops sown on soil types which don't hold water well, such as deep sands, have diminished yield potential as a result," the GIWA Crop Report for October said.

Planfarm consultant Glen Brayshaw said dry conditions in September had taken the cream off what was otherwise set to be good yields in some areas.

"Had the crops received 10 to 20mm over September, this would have made a measurable difference to yield potential," he said.

"How crops are faring depends very much on the area, but in many cases the 100 or so millimetres that many areas received in late July, early August helped these crops to hang in there until now and many farmers are still expecting average, or slightly below-average yields."

Mr Brayshaw said crops in the eastern Wheatbelt were looking good while many in higher rainfall areas that were set up to achieve higher yields had depleted much of their moisture.

CBH's harvest estimate remains at 13.5 million tonnes, though a spokesperson for the group said this could be reviewed in the near future in light of the dry spring.

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