Frankland growers fear summer hardship

Kate PollardThe West Australian

Grape growers in the Frankland River wine district are battling a green drought - plenty of feed but not enough run-off into dams to cover irrigation this summer.

Last week, 40mm of rain was recorded bringing the total for the year to 310mm, but its still a long way from the average annual rainfall of 600mm.

Tom Ettridge, who has 20ha of grapes, along with 2500 sheep plus crops, believes there is still time for rain but said a lot of growers were concerned.

While his sheep feed and crops are doing well, water reserves are at 20 per cent capacity.

Without heavy falls and run-off, irrigating vines will have to be reduced to conserve water for stock over the summer.

"We don't irrigate the whites as much as we used to now because we are not selling the fruit so that's allowed us a bit of excess water I suppose," he said.

Half of the vineyard is planted with red grape varieties which are irrigated. Mr Ettridge believes to put them into shutdown mode would be a short-term fix as vines still would need to be sprayed and pruned correctly.

With many growers most likely to be two-thirds of the way through pruning, Mr Ettridge said this was the time to set up vines for the expected crop.

"If you are not going to have the water, you really need to adjust the crop load accordingly," he said.

"What we need is an inch of rain one day and the following day, another inch."

The dry year comes after just one run-off event last year for growers, at the break of the season.

"We have gone through a summer and most of the winter without getting runoff," Mr Ettridge said.

Andrew Murray from Powderbark Ridge said his vineyard was at 10 per cent capacity for water.

But he said they had been through dry years when poor winter rain had been supplemented by spring and summer rains.

"The game isn't over yet. It just means instead of relying on irrigation, we will be relying on spring and summer rain," Mr Murray said.

Without rain, he believes there is likely to be an impact on yield.

Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Keris Arndt said it was heading towards a below-average winter. "August is generally drier than July and we have had a below-average July. But we are still in winter and there is still the likelihood of fronts to come," he said.

BOM has forecast showers for Thursday and Friday to the south and west coast.

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