Hopes pinned on a wet June

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Growers are nervously eyeing the skies as a drier than average May has some crops teetering on the edge and forecasters predicting a dry winter.

Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) climate research officer Ian Foster said solid rains in late April and early May prompted many growers to sow canola early.

"Since then we've had two to three weeks of fine, dry weather, which has a lot of crops stressed and some are dying," he said.

Mr Foster said a lot of growers experienced a 'false break' in May and were anxiously waiting for follow-up rain.

Scattered rain was forecast throughout the Wheatbelt yesterday.

Mr Foster said a potential low was forecast for Sunday and Monday, which could bring consistent rain to inland agricultural areas.

Koorda farmer George Storer sowed 200 hectares of canola dry in late April another 130ha in early May, after 11mm of rain.

"We had about 55mm of summer rain on top of the four or five inches last harvest, so we were fairly confident that if we got it in it would get away," he said.

"By about May 20 the canola was looking great, but it hadn't rained, so it started to go backwards."

George, who farms with his son Adam and wife Terri, said a proportion of his canola had died as a result of the dry spell.

He said he would not re-seed because he suspected about 20 per cent of the canola he sowed remained in the ground.

"If it rains in June, there is still a chance that whatever hadn't germinated will get away," he said.

George said he never forward sold any of his canola because he considered it too risky.

The Storers pulled up seeding on May 22 and have an additional 800ha of wheat planned.

Mr Foster said growers in southern parts of the State were better placed than those in the northern agricultural regions because they were working on more subsoil moisture.

"Those in the south have more soil moisture so their yield potential is looking better," he said.

"The northern agricultural region is very much looking for a follow-up to continue crop growth."

Hopetoun farmer Paul Foulds is set to finish his 4000ha program at the end of this week.

He said his crops had enough subsoil moisture to survive the dry spell during May.

"We started on April 22 and we already had moisture. We had about 180mm of rain during harvest and 25mm in February," he said.

"We had a pretty good start and a very good April."

Paul, who farms with his wife Ainsley and son Sam, received close to 25mm during April over three rainfall events and about 13mm for the whole of May.

Paul said mice caused some problems at seeding this year and he had to bait twice in some of his paddocks.

Mr Foster said the department's view of the season break was around early May for growers in the south and about the third week of May for those in northern and central districts.

"This season we have the situation where there are two potential breaks - one in early May and then in June," he said.

He said the yield potential was still there for most of these areas, though it may have dropped for growers in the Geraldton zone.

Yuna farmer Brett Warr pulled up seeding on May 16 about halfway through his 5300ha program.

He said his 800ha canola crop was looking sick in patches, but was thriving in other parts of his farm.

"It is really variable," he said.

Brett, who farms with his wife Kira, said he might consider reseeding some of his canola if it rained in time.

"If it doesn't rain until the end of June, there would be no use," he said.

The Warrs received just 14mm for the growing season, during rainfall events in late April and early May.

Brett said there was soil moisture about 50cm deep, from rain late last year and early this year.

"It wouldn't take a lot of rain to join it up," he said.

Brett said he would sow the rest of his program when a significant front was forecast.

"I will wait and see when it is going to rain and will probably start dry seeding about four days ahead."

The Bureau of Meteorology's (BOM) forecast, released last week, for June to August, tipped a drier than normal winter for WA's South West Land Division.

BOM said the chances of WA's agricultural district receiving above median rainfall for winter were between 20 and 40 per cent.

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