Soaking brings the smiles

Jo Fulwood, Jenne Brammer and Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

Season-saving rain fell across most parts of the agricultural region last weekend, with some areas seeing their first significant falls for the seeding period.

Rainfall figures released by the Bureau of Meteorology show that widespread falls were recorded across the Wheatbelt and Great Southern, including 35mm at Brookton, 16mm at Wyalkatchem, 16mm at Ballidu, 20 mm at Shackleton, 11mm at Mt Walker, 23mm at Broomehill and 23mm at Williams.

Among happy farmers was Duncan Young, whose Beverley farm received a welcome 26.5mm at the weekend. He said the rainfall would be enough to finish his seeding program.

Mr Young said the traditional start date for the Beverley area was mid to late May, so many farmers were only just getting into their programs.

"We didn't want to start early in case it was a false start but in my area, a traditional start is mid to late May anyway," he said.

"There is also the risk of frost and around here, it can be a big robber of profit and yield.

"Where in other areas frost might not be an issue, it really does make your decision-making a bit harder with early break.

"But we are now seeing ideal seeding conditions."

Mr Young said while his business had already sown some canola and lupins, he had pulled up before the rain.

"We had moisture deep down, but we had variable conditions across the paddocks, so we'd go from true dry seeding to wet/dry seeding, and it was getting to a point where we would have had staggered germination, so it wasn't worth continuing seeding," he said.

The Youngs received about 95mm in the March, April, May period leading up to seeding.

"And about 10 days ago, we received 3mm, which was more a nuisance than anything," he said.

Mr Young said he still had to seed 360ha canola, another 90ha lupins, 600ha of Cobra and Mace wheat, 300ha scope barley, finishing off with some field peas.

Mr Young, who is also WAFarmers grains section president, said the rain would give a confidence boost to farmers across the broadacre regions.

"In most areas, there seemed to be a pretty good start," he said.

"Because of the dry spell, some people pulled up and probably re-evaluated some programs in certain areas but I think this rain has certainly taken away some of the stress from many farmers."

Tammin farmer Greg Packham, who farms with his brother Mike, said despite receiving just 13.7 mm, he had not been disappointed.

"As the forecast developed over the week, it seemed as though we were going to get less than that," he said.

A third of the way through his seeding program, Mr Packham said he had pretty much come to a stop before the rain.

"We were getting into some of our heavier country that was going to get a bit tough without moisture," he said.

"We like to seed into moisture in these tougher paddocks.

"But with what we have already sown dry, we'll definitely get a germination from the weekend's rain."

Mr Packham said the 13.7mm would keep him going for only the remainder of the week.

"Luckily it was nice steady rain, particularly on the Sunday night," he said. "But we might have to pull up again by Thursday or Friday unless we get another 4 or 5mm. What we received over the weekend isn't enough for us to finish on.

"We'll just keep picking away at paddocks while we have moisture."

Mr Packham said it was too early to be concerned about the way the season was progressing.

"A mid-May start is not the end of the world," he said.

"If we go back to 1996 where we'd sown nothing until the end of May and early June, we still yielded over 2 t/ha .

"There's a long way to go in the season yet."

Further north, agrarian consultant Craig Topham said weekend rain had arrived just in the nick of time for many farmers in that area.

"There is never enough rain. Farmers can always do with more, but people are pretty happy with what was delivered over the weekend," he said.

The southern and western part of the northern region received more than north and eastern fringes.

Binnu and Yuna had a reasonable fall of about 16-18mm.

Properties west of Mullewa received 15-18mm, while east of Mullewa received between 8-12mm.

Further south around Eneabba, about 41mm was received.

The much-needed rain ended a dry patch, which followed on from heavy welcome rains in late March.

"Things were getting desperate, and wind last week had started to do a bit of damage," Mr Topham said.

Mr Topham said a lot of early-sown crop in the region was already out of the ground.

However, in some cases, soil moisture had dropped below the strike zone and many farmers were back to dry seeding.

"But luckily the rain has come through now and that has settled the dust," he said.

"The moisture that fell over the weekend now will join up with existing moisture in the soil profile, and will allow farmers to finish their programs.

"Farmers are once again happy and are feeling optimistic about the season."

Mr Topham said farmers with good weed controls to conserve moisture, and the right seeding machinery, now had crops that were well advanced.

"There's a lot of country where crops are well and truly out of the ground after being planted in to the good sub soil moisture. A lot of wheat is at the three or four leave stage," he said.

"For the people who couldn't conserve moisture and so were seeding without getting a strike, then their crops will be about three weeks behind."

He expects most people in the northern agricultural region will be finished with their seeding programs by next week.

Synergy consultant Chris Wilkins said his clients, based from the bottom of the Perenjori shires down to the Wongan Hills shires, received at least 10mm, with up to 30mm west around the Moora shire.

"This has been enough to get everything that was in the ground out of the ground, and enough to enable the farmers to finish seeding," he said.

He said seeding was well advanced in these areas.

Dalwallinu would be about 70 per cent complete, Moora 50 per cent done, while Dandaragan would be about a third complete.

"There's been good falls, so it's once again full steam ahead in terms of seeding programs," he said.

Mr Wilkins said pastures, which had previously been under stress, had also bounced back remarkably after the rain.

"Crops weren't stressing following the dry spell as they were seeded early enough and had access to the sub soil moisture," he said.

The big concern was pasture in the western areas, as these had germinated in April. The dry spell meant a lot of the sub clover on the gravelly and stronger soils had died," he said.

"Although quality has gone, there will be a lot of volume this year. A lot of the surviving pastures have been alive for a month so this will be a lot bigger and will grow faster than it would normally."

Ashley Burges said 27mm of rain at the weekend at his farm north of Meckering was just what he needed to justify putting in this season's wheat crop.

Mr Burges and his father Merv had seeded canola and lupins into dry ground but were holding out for rain before planting wheat.

"This was important rain. If we didn't get this rain, we would have been looking at other options and seeing which way we went with (our) cropping program," he said.

The farm had received only about 70mm of rain this year before the weekend.

Mr Burges expects to stop handfeeding his sheep flock over the next couple of weeks and move them on to pasture that is green as a result of the rain.

Narrogin Merino ewe producer Danielle England said the rain had breathed life into farms in her district.

Mrs England said the pasture on her property started to germinate last month but up until now there had been no moisture to support growth.

She said falls of 22mm in the Narrogin valley at the weekend also gave farmers the breathing space they needed to sow their wheat crops.

A long spell of warm and dry weather leading into last week prompted the Grain Industry Association of WA to warn that the yield potential of this season's crop was falling with every day without rain.

Many districts had been set up for a good growing season after big falls in late March and early last month but those hopes were starting to evaporate.

ConsultAg director Richard Vincent said 70 per cent of the Wheatbelt was now in a "pretty good position".

"Early rain around Easter provided some very handy subsoil moisture reserves and the weekend rain allows the crop to germinate and grow into that moisture," he said.

"Some areas with early sowings have crops out of the ground and farmers are feeling optimistic about yield potential.

"Some areas were not so lucky, with only single-digit rain totals and will wait patiently for the next rain system." Mr Vincent said the traditional break of the season was about the third week of May, so there was no cause for alarm for growers sweating on more rain.

"There is a long way to go but it would be nice to see WA double up with another 15 million-tonne crop like last year and put some more resilience back into farmers' balance sheets," he said. WA's grain harvest is the most valuable annual event in Australian agriculture.

Last season's crop and a record 17 million-tonne harvest in 2013-14 generated close to $10 billion for the local economy.

Prominent grower John Nicoletti said the eastern edge of the Wheatbelt - which includes much of his land - had falls of up to 10mm at the weekend but needed more rain.

"We are not complaining but would like another 20-25mm. We are hoping for some more from another front over the next week," he said.

Mr Nicoletti said he was about 10 days away from completing seeding over 65,000ha.

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