Farmer finds silver lining in dry spell

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Newdegate farmer Bryce Sinclair.
Camera IconNewdegate farmer Bryce Sinclair. Credit: Cally Dupe

A little bit of rain would make a big difference at Bryce Sinclair’s farm, with crops being seeded into some of the driest soils he’s seen in his 15 years on the family property.

But the grain and sheep farmer, pictured, is still feeling optimistic and not too impatient, just yet, even though the blue skies over WA’s Lakes district are not really welcome at this time of year.

A network of 68 dams across the Sinclairs’ sprawling 13,500ha mixed farm — which includes about 8000 sheep and 8500ha of crops — has saved it from dehydration after a dry 12 months.

After 15 years farming with his parents Dean and Rosie Sinclair, Bryce believes the area’s current prolonged dry spell is cyclical.

Like most growers in the area, he’s going “steady” rather than “flat out” while seeding this month, with the tractor on six days a week and a day set aside for stock work.

“If you look at the 100-year records in this Newdegate and Varley area, on the average ours has barely changed,” Bryce said.

“We had dry starts then, and we have had wet starts, and we have had both in the past five years.

“This is our second seeding in a row that has been dry seeding, the ones before that were wet.

“I am optimistic it will rain, it always does after a dry spell.”

Newdegate farmer Bryce Sinclair.
Camera IconNewdegate farmer Bryce Sinclair. Credit: Cally Dupe

With 22 of the 68 dams currently dry, the Sinclairs have been making the most of the opportunity to clean them out, and hope the next time they have to do so will be in “another 25 years time”.

An eternal optimist, Bryce said the dry conditions had also led to a reduced spraying program.

Usually, the family would have completed at least one pass over the property ahead of seeding.

This year, they have sprayed just a third of the property, saving them a considerable amount of money.

The Sinclairs’ farm stretches about 76km from its northern front gate to its southern front gate, each side of Newdegate-Ravensthorpe Road, about 25km east of Newdegate.

While its southern blocks have had about 10-15mm of rain this year, and some of the northern blocks about 30mm, Bryce said subsoil moisture was “non existent”.

As well as his parents, Bryce farms with his partner Di Poultney, and two workmen — Steve Burridge and Ross Pike.

This year’s program will comprise 1600ha of wheat, 4000ha of barley, 600ha of canola, 700ha of lupins and 120ha of peas.

They also put in about 700ha of vetch, seradella, lucerne and medic, to help feed their 6800 mated ewes, which includes 5200 mated to Merinos and 1600 to crossbreds.

For the first time, there will be more barley than wheat planted in the Lakes districts this year, according to Grain Industry Association of WA’s latest crop report.

Crop report author Michael Lamond said very little crop had emerged in the area so far, with growers planning to cut canola programs in half, and upping their barley and pasture plantings.

Like most, the Sinclairs have increased their barley program, but seeded their full canola program early with hopes for rain.

After decades of seeding sub clovers, the Sinclairs started trialling vetch a few years ago.

They then added seradella and are running a trial to see “how it goes instead of sub clovers”, after drawing inspiration from the neighbouring Newmans at Varley.

“We are trialling seradella, just to see how it goes instead of sub clovers,” he said. “We were looking over the fence at our neighbours, and were looking for a longer-season of green feed.”

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