Smiles after July deluge

Jo Fulwood, Jenne Brammer and Trin SucklingThe West Australian

Dry July in the Wheatbelt came to an abrupt halt last week, with falls of more than 135mm recorded in eastern parts.

For some farmers, the falls were the biggest winter rainfall totals they had ever experienced and for many, last week's deluge has kept hopes alive for an average or above average season.

Daily July rainfall records were smashed in many areas, with falls of 87.6mm recorded at Bindi Bindi East, 86.2mm at Wongan Hills, 82.5mm at Gabbin and 75.6mm at Mindalla on July 31.

Bureau of Meteorology recordings show weekly totals of 125mm at Wongan Hills, 115mm at Bencubbin, 114mm at Koorda, 113mm at Moningarin and 111mm at Northam.

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Bureau of Meteorology senior spokesman Neil Bennett said the rainfall was not typical for the winter period.

"At this time of year we usually get our rainfall coming in with cold fronts sweeping up from the south west, but this wasn't the case last week," he said.

"This was a cut-off low that sat out over the Indian Ocean, combined with a middle level trough and above average Indian Ocean temperatures.

"It was a slow moving system that produced some amazing totals across the wheatbelt."

Mr Bennett said a second distinct band occurred further to the south from Bunbury through to Albany.

He said another system was moving in on Thursday and Friday but much lower rainfall was predicted.

North Cadoux farmer Ryan Lego said the 108mm that fell on his property last week was the biggest rainfall event he could remember since returning to the farm 15 years ago.

The desperately-needed rain more than doubled the 67mm otherwise received for the whole season before last week's downpour.

"It was a very gentle rain - beautiful," he said.

Mr Lego, who farms with wife Amy and parents Ron and Jean, said this rain would add several tillers to wheat plants.

"Our crops sown on 10mm in May didn't really germinate until late June when it rained, so the crops were well behind," he said.

"As a result of the dry start, some of the potential would already have been lost, but wheat is quite a resilient plant.

"I expect this rain will have most benefit to the later germinated crops."

Before the rains, Mr Lego thought they would be lucky to get one tonne/ha harvests.

The recent rains means he is hopeful for two-tonne harvests in some paddocks.

He said sheep feed was starting to get tight, but green feed would be abundant now.

All dams on the property are full, including dams Mr Lego has never seen at such levels.

Over at Beacon, the Dunne family received 100mm last week, lifting their hopes for a good season.

John Dunne, who farms with wife Marilyn and sons Andrew and David, also received abundant early rains of 67mm in March and 23mm in April.

But two subsequent dry patches of up to five weeks during May and June meant there were times when their crops were hanging on "to the last gasp" before receiving saving rains in the nick of time.

"These dry spells would have robbed some potential, but the recent rains have really helped to turn our situation to positive again," he said.

"The last time we had anywhere near this much rain mid-winter was 2008, which happened to be the best production year in my farming life.

"That year we averaged 2.67 tonnes per hectare over around 4000ha (including 400ha which was cut for hay because of severe frost). But we do not want to count chickens before they hatch."

Mr Dunne said the rains would mean every crop in the district would reach whatever potential it was capable of achieving.

"That is not to say all will be world beaters - the weedy ones will share that potential with the weeds, the thin ones that have suffered through extended dry periods will still be thin - but their heads will fill out with good grain," he said.

The swath of rain also covered the northern wheatbelt, resulting in above-average July figures for the region and cementing hopes for a successful 2015 growing season.

East Binnu grower Damien Harris recorded 94mm for the July period and has since recorded 19mm for August.

Mr Harris' initial seeds of confidence are now firmly planted after the rainfall, with only a number of insect and fungal issues left to tackle.

"Hopefully we can hang onto some reasonable yields now; a couple more rains would be handy," he said.

"I'm currently spraying out fungicide to deal with some powdery mildew and putting out some preventatives against yellow spot and any foliar diseases that may arise, as well as topping up on some nitrogen.

"I have picked up some disease in my crops already, particularly powdery mildew, and I have noticed some damage caused by aphids.

"After spraying for a farmer south of me, I don't think we are as affected in this area; green peach aphids are proving to be an issue for a large number of growers."

Alma and Sandy Gully farmer Scott Bridgeman has also noted a heavy effect on his crops from aphids.

"They are running amok in the canola and I have noticed damage to my bisurella pasture from aphids as well; we've sprayed them with some prosaro and insecticide," he said.

But he is confidently expectant of the season's harvest at this point of the season.

"We haven't had the hair dryer we experienced last year over three or four weeks, I'm comfortable predicting a 2.4 tonne to the hectare average despite any future dry spells."

Department of Agriculture and Food WA principal research officer David Bowran said the rain had revived crops and hopes of WA achieving at least an average harvest.

He said a harvest of 11 million tonnes to 12 million tonnes would be a great result, given the long dry spells so far this season.

"We might still get a wet September and October, and we have had that happen in 2013 when we just absolutely creamed it with the most fantastic yields," he said.

"None of the global models at the moment are telling us that is going to occur and it is still looking on the dry side rather than the wet side."

CBH has upgraded its harvest estimate to 13 million tonnes.

Mr Bowran said although rainfall last week was widespread across much of the Wheatbelt, there was a band from Mandurah to Ongerup that was still very dry and growers there were now desperate.

_THE 100mm club _

· Wongan Hills: 125mm

· Bencubbin: 119mm

· Koorda: 114mm

· Gabbin: 108mm

· Ejanding: 107mm

· Southern Cross: 101mm

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