Top-up falls for top start

Jo Fulwood and Brad ThompsonCountryman

Top-up rains late last week and at the weekend have put smiles on the faces of Wheatbelt farmers, many whom are winding up their seeding programs for the year.

Official Bureau of Meteorology rainfall recordings for the seven days until Sunday morning showed 45mm at Cowcowing, 34mm at Kojonup, 30mm at Koorda, 34mm at Narembeen, 34mm at Bencubbin, 30mm at Ardath, and 27mm at Narrogin.

Many areas throughout the north-eastern Wheatbelt received the lion’s share of their weekly rain totals from the system on Thursday.

Bureau of Meteorology manager of media and communication Neil Bennett said the rain on Thursday was from a mid-level disturbance, which was followed by the classic winter front over the weekend.

“We weren’t expecting much through the north-eastern Wheatbelt out of that winter front but there was some rain received, in the order of 5-10mm in that area,” he said.

“The bulk of the rain over the weekend, since it was a classic winter front, fell in the Wheatbelt, Great Southern and lower South West.”

“For those areas it was certainly a significant event, and these types of events we only see on average about five times a year,” he said.

He said some of heaviest falls were received in Bridgetown with 66mm, Collie with 65mm and Dwellingup with 88mm.

For Benjaberring farmers Marcus and Kelli Riley, the season has been extraordinary to date, and last week’s rain arrived just at the right time.

“The germinated crops were just starting to look like needing a drink,” Mr Riley said.

“The 19mmm we received on the weekend from that winter front, plus the 30mm we received last week from the earlier, slower-moving mid-level event was perfect timing and will keep things ticking along nicely.”

The Rileys, who seed 80 per cent of their property, began their program into full subsoil moisture in early April.

Mr Riley said it was the wettest start he had ever seen.

“It started when we received 50mm in November during harvest, which was more of a pain than anything,” he said.

“We had to spray everything twice over summer, then pre-seeding we went over the paddocks with glyphosate to do a double knock, and then we used trifluralin and paraquat in front of the seeder.”

Mr Riley said his property had received 181mm for March, April and May.

“That’s a lot of rain. Its about equivalent to the total growing season average in this area,” he said.

He said heavy falls over the Easter period had created large washouts in several areas across the farm.

“But its hard to complain about that when you are a grain farmer,” he said.

“The crop is in and also out of the ground before the end of May, so that ticks two of the boxes to start with.

“Since it’s established so well, we are extremely positive about the season ahead.”

This season the Riley’s have planted canola, lupins, barley wheat and oats.

Mr Riley said he was bulking up the new barley variety of Spartacus and the new Mace replacement, Scepter.

“We have also planted Spear wheat which has been sitting in the silos for a number of years, waiting for an early start,” he said.

The Rileys have 1500 breeding ewes and Mr Riley said they lambed into green feed for the first time in many years.

“We planted medic pasture many years ago, and that has generated extremely well this year,” he said.

The Rileys also produce hay for stock feed.

WA’s biggest graingrower John Nicoletti said the eastern Wheatbelt was off to its best start to a growing season in more than a decade. He had even heard farmers south of Merredin complaining it was too wet.

“My advice to them is take a couple of days off and enjoy because we have a lot more dry days that wet ones in this country,” he said.

Mr Nicoletti, who will grow crops across about 45,000 hectares this year, said Bullfinch and Warralakin had been soaked with more than 30mm of rain since last Thursday.

“The last good year we had out here was 2003 and it is shaping up very similar,” he said.

“Across the eastern Wheatbelt it is really good and it is very wet south of Merredin in places like Narembeen and Mt Walker. People are jumping out of their skin all over the place after this start.”

The weekend rain also couldn’t have come at a better time for farmers on the edge of the Wheatbelt north of Geraldton, who had been crying out for a downpour.

Jerome Drew, of Yandi Station, said they were hoping for more rain last night after a dry start to the year.

“Most people have put their crops in dry and this gives us some sort of start to our season,” he said.

“We had just finished seeding and were really pleased to get that rain.”

Mr Drew said his property, which is as far north as crops are grown in WA, had 14mm on Thursday and about 10mm on the weekend.

Elders Wyalkatchem Agronomist Matt Willis said the Wyalkatchem townsite had already received 253.6 mm for 2016.

“You have to go all the way back to 1915 to find a wetter start,” he said. “For the first time in many years, farmers are getting excellent weed control with ample moisture enabling pre-emergent herbicides to work to their full potential.”

Mr Willis said insect and disease pressure would be higher than normal this season and growers who were traditionally low-input operators would be spending more money than usual on chemicals across the season

“But I’ve not heard a complaint about it yet,” he said.

But he warned chemical supply could become an issue as the season progresses.

“I’ve been told by several chemical company reps that if we get a “perfect storm” and crop diseases such as powdery mildew and rust run rife throughout the Wheatbelt, there will not be enough fungicide available in the State,” he said.

Meanwhile, a further system on Monday night and Tuesday morning brought even more rain to areas across the Wheatbelt, Great Southern, lower west and south coastal areas, with Kondinnin receiving another 8mm, Brookton 12mm, Dalwallinu 9mm, Esperance 2mm and Nannup 32mm.

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