Waiting game at Wickepin

Headshot of Jenne Brammer
Jenne BrammerThe West Australian

Dry conditions over the past month after a "flying start" to the season have led Wickepin farmer Tim Fleay facing challenges with the post-emergent spraying of his canola.

Mr Fleay's Wickepin property received 40mm at the start of April, followed by 10mm in mid-May, but little since.

About 8mm is forecast for the latter part of this week, but dry conditions over the past month have led to patchy emergence of canola, with of some six to eight-leaf plants sitting alongside cotyledons in the same paddock.

"This makes timing of spraying challenging, particularly within the Roundup Ready crops," he said.

"Normally I do two sprays on the Roundup Ready canola. In a normal year I would have done one by now, but in this case I haven't.

"This means I won't be able to pick up the later-germinating ryegrass."

A further challenge presented by the dry conditions is that weeds are harder to kill when stressed from a lack of moisture.

That said, Mr Fleay is still confident he is on track for a good season.

"Provided the rain arrives as forecast, the cereals, which are all looking fine, will be on track for an average to above-average year," he said.

"Canola yields may be a bit below average, given we are now in the middle of June and percentages of the paddocks still only have canola at the cotyledon stage."

With the help of farm assistant Tom Sands, Mr Fleay, a member of the Facey Group's cropping committee, this year planted 700ha of Stingray, Snapper and Roundup Ready canola, 900ha of Mace and Harper wheat, 180ha of Williams oats, 330ha of Gunyidi lupins and 610ha of Scope and LaTrobe barley.

Compared with last year, oat plantings have increased because of attractive pricing.

He has also planted more lupins at the expense of canola.

"Because we had two good years recently, we opted for lupins for the nitrogen-fixing benefits as part of the rotation," he said.

"And because we had moisture at depth, I was confident we could get the lupins out of the ground if sown deep."

Mr Fleay also runs 2000 breeding ewes - 500 of these are mated to Prime SAMM rams, sourced from the Coonigan stud at Wickepin - and they drop their lambs in April.

Mr Fleay said he plans for the ewes mated to SAMMs to drop in April so that lambs can get to market early before the main pressure is on.

"We also tend to mate the SAMM rams to the older ewes, and try to wean the lamb off early and also sell the ewe early," he said.

The 1500 Merino ewes are joined with Merino rams from the neighbouring Eastville bloodline, and most have dropped their lambs in recent weeks.

Mr Fleay said little pasture was left because of the dry conditions, but he expected this would bounce back quickly once the rain arrives.

"We are having to hand feed now due to the lack of green feed," he said. "It's not a big issue as the abundant green feed in April meant we did not hand feed at a time when we normally would, so it all balances out."

In terms of the wool operation, Mr Fleay shears in August. The sheep have an average micron of 20.

He said like others in the industry, he has over past years moved from a heavy-cutting wrinkly Merino towards a plainer-bodied easier-care sheep.

With the recent rebound in the Eastern Market Indicator, he said wool production is looking more attractive. However, whether that will be sustained is unknown.

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