Cold, dry July a yield dampener

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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CBH has knocked one million tonnes off of its harvest estimate, as July shapes up to be one of the driest and coldest on record.

The company's Max Johnson said harvest was expected to yield 9-11 million tonnes, down from CBH's forecast 10-12 million tonnes.

"July has been the driest month on record for a number of sites," Mr Johnson said.

"We were fortunate enough to have a reasonable June in most areas, which has given us reasonable subsoil moisture, but it has been very cold and dry since and the crop is very much retarded.

"It's really almost in dormancy in a lot of cases."

Although many areas have subsoil moisture thanks to summer rain, those reserves are beginning to dry up and the cold weather has hampered growth.

"While the crop isn't under moisture stress, it's under growth stress," Mr Johnson said.

"It's remarkable and I've never seen this before. I've never seen crops being retarded for so long. But it has been three to four weeks of cold dry weather."

Leon Guest, who farms 15km north of Westonia, had plentiful summer rain. He said 65 per cent of his wheat program was well established but there was just a week left of subsoil moisture reserves before crops started to stress.

"Without rain the crop would probably hang on for two weeks but it wouldn't progress much," he said.

"The cold weather has slowed down growth and we could really do with rain so we don't use up that subsoil moisture."

Mr Johnson said most of the Geraldton zone was OK, although potential in the northern areas of the zone was beginning to be impeded.

However, the Kwinana zone and northern parts of Albany zone were starting to feel the pinch.

Cunderdin airfield has recorded just 0.2mm in July, and although nearby farmer Mike Jasper picked up 6mm it's still nowhere near enough for his crops.

His last significant rain was 14mm on May 10, with just "dribs and drabs" since then.

"We haven't been able to put out urea because there have been no fronts coming through to wash it in," Mr Jasper said.

"The crops are starting to look crook but considering what they've had they're OK.

"If it's not rained in 10 days there will be yield losses unless there is a really nice soft finish."

According to Mr Johnson, most of the Kwinana zone is in the same boat.

"Waves of frost have really held crops back in their growth - I haven't heard reports of crops dying but they're just not growing," he said.

"If we don't have significant rain in the next two weeks you'll see a lot of the crop push up through the mid-to-late tillering phase through to piping or stem elongation.

"That means a lot of production will fall away. We need not only the cold weather to go away but fronts to come in."

However, neither the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) nor the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) season outlooks are good news for farmers. Both are predicting dry weather with below-average rainfall in the coming months.

DAFWA is forecasting a greater chance of below average rainfall until at least September, particularly for the northern and south central agricultural region.

The BOM outlook is much the same, with the chance of receiving average rainfall in the next three months just 35-50 per cent across most of the State.

"It's not what growers or CBH want to hear," Mr Johnson said.

"We will need rain until the end of September to get any substantial grain growth and grain fill."

However, not everywhere is looking for rain.

Mr Johnson said the southern parts of the Albany and Esperance zones were looking good.

For some farmers along the South Coast waterlogging - not dry and cold weather - has been holding crops back.

Some farmers in the Green Range to Wellstead areas are bracing for yield reductions in wetter paddocks suffering ponding.

While canola in drier paddocks is booting and going in flower, in wetter areas plants are just palm-sized and turning purple.

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