Rising damp leaves some wary

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Munglinup farmers are looking to the skies, but it is not rain they are praying for.

After a May in which more than 100mm of rain fell on some areas, more grey clouds are the last thing growers want.

The rainfall saw many growers pull up seeders, with paddocks simply too wet to travel across.

After 85mm in the past week, Munglinup grower Stephen Pink joked that he was only just staying afloat as he sprayed his paddocks.

“We’re seeding again now, but we have to pick our paddocks, ” he said. “We’ve still got 500 hectares out of 3700ha to sow.”

Just north-east of Munglinup, Graham Stewart has already received half of his annual 500mm rainfall, including 88mm for May.

Seeding was interrupted for a week and although finished now, Graham admitted there was some loss.

“We’ve got some paddocks that are under water again and we need a dry spell,” he said.

“We made sure we started early this year and got the wet paddocks seeded early.”

The situation has prompted Graham to put in drainage to try redirect water off sodden paddocks.

“The flatter, gravelly type soils that fill up with moisture drain out quick once there is a drain through them, but when the water can’t go anywhere it holds it for a long time,” Graham said.

“We’ve considered doing it for a while, but this has made us get organised.”

It’s almost a repeat situation of last year, when 152.6mm of rain ushered in the second wettest May on record.

Initially, many growers weren’t concerned, but the wet conditions persisted through to July before abruptly drying up and leaving some crops ailing.

Farming just 5km from the coast, Andrew Bott is used to wet conditions but said last year was the worst he had seen on his farm.

And this May he has received up to 110mm in places.

“We’re miles too wet again, but at least this year we’re in front of last year because the crops are in the ground,” Andrew said.

“Last year we were still seeding in the last week of August.

“Everything was affected (last year) and the only thing that stood up really was the wheat.

“The late barley was terrible and canola was one tonne when normally our average is around 1.8 tonnes, so it was very disappointing.”

But despite the wet start, Andrew said he still only received his average annual rainfall of 600mm.

“We didn’t have a spring at all — we got all the rain early and nothing to finish the crops late,” he said.

“When that happens they don’t have a root structure, so when it becomes hot they don’t finish anywhere near as well.

“Even though there is plenty of subsoil moisture, the roots aren’t down so they don’t finish.”

Last year, Andrew couldn’t seed 200ha because it simply didn’t dry out in time and he’s now hoping he won’t need to reseed much of this year’s crop.

“It’s too early to tell now whether we’ll reseed. The barley and the wheat are coming up now,” he said.

“There may be small areas in each paddock that may need reseeding, but we’ll assess that in the coming weeks. We’re going into winter, so we know it’s going to get wetter.”

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