South Coast farmer ahead of the pack

Kate Matthews and Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Climatologists are predicting a mixed bag for seeding but early rains mean some producers already have crops in the ground.

Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) climatologist Ian Foster said climate modelling had shown a slight preference for wetter conditions in the South West and South Coast, no preference either way for the central Wheatbelt and a drier start in the northern agricultural region.

In its latest seasonal update, DAFWA said there was good stored moisture in much of the southern, western and eastern Wheatbelt, which would be positive for seeding.

On the South Coast, Mark Roberts already has canola germinating, after Cyclone Lua dumped 50mm on his paddocks in March.

The Cascade farmer took advantage of the subsoil moisture and seeded canola and vetch, which he plans to graze. After a couple of rainfall top-ups, he said the canola would not need rain for a month.

But Mr Roberts was not alone in taking the opportunity to seed early. There were reports of a few South Coast farmers seeding, and like Mr Roberts, several were planting grazing crops.

However, Esperance Farmanco consultant John Richardson said aside from those with grazing crops or large programs, many around the district would wait for the break.

"We haven't had rain for 12 days or so and it doesn't look like there will be anything substantial in the next 10 days," he said. "Programs will be business as usual for many but if we get rain before the end of April then canola plantings will probably go up in lower rainfall areas."

According to DAFWA, the wetter conditions in the south of the State have created significant weed pressures and led to a build up of locusts in the Great Southern.

In the Mid West and parts of the central Wheatbelt, subsoil moisture is low and good rain at the break will be needed.

In Geraldton, Planfarm consultant Richard Quinlan said even those who seeded early would hold off for at least another week.

Mr Quinlan said without substantial rain, many would wait until the traditional Anzac Day start.

"Where possible and where soil types allow, growers will be swapping lupins for canola and a fair bit of that has gone on in the planning," he said.

"If it stays dry then that canola might not go in and more lupins might go back in.

"It's a contrast to last year when there was a lot of ammonium, nitrogen and moisture in the soil.

"We're going to need a reasonable amount of moisture to get crops out of the ground now."

Dr Foster said sea surface temperatures remained warm off of the WA coast, which may lead to more rain.

"There is plenty of scope for the season to turn out OK but the difference, especially for people in the northern region, is the lack of soil moisture to start. They are going to be dependent on a good start to winter," he said.

With more growers likely to be dry seeding, Dr Foster said there was a risk there might be a longer period before rain fell and the possibility of a patchy germination.

He said current international climate models were not as consistent as those in 2010, when drier conditions were expected.

This was due to normal conditions returning in the Pacific after La Nina and El Nino events.

But after April, Dr Foster said the skill of the models often improved and there was more consistency.

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