Northern crops get buffeting

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

Strong and gusty winds across the northern agricultural area on Wednesday and Thursday caused damaging dust storms throughout the region in the lead-up to the weekend's frontal activity.

Paul Kelly, who farms canola, wheat, lupins and coriander at Mingenew, said while he was still assessing the impact of the windstorm, it was obvious at this early stage that his paddocks had sustained pockets of damage.

Mr Kelly predicted 20 per cent of his lupins had been affected.

He said while he hoped not to re-seed any wheat or lupins, he would look at reseeding some patches of canola to wheat at this late stage in the season.

"We are confident our wheat has not been affected, but some of the canola has been totally blown out and some lupins have been damaged in the poorer areas, but again we are fairly confident they will come back," he said.

"It's too late in the season to re-seed the canola so we'll put that into wheat now and hope for the best.

"We deep-ripped and deep-ploughed this year, and I knew it was a risk but you take those risks in farming.

"But we have been over the property with my agronomist and we are hoping for the best, and when spring comes it's like a coat of paint, it covers a lot of sins."

Darrin Lee, who also farms at Mingenew, received a total of 34.4mm from the weather system, but the heavy winds before the front blew dirt and dust across his property.

Mr Lee said below average rainfall in April, May and early June meant bare paddocks and dry topsoil didn't stand a chance against the strong winds.

Bligh Lee Farms is a mixed cropping and livestock business, with Mr Lee saying he had reduced his seeding program after receiving only 14mm in April and 15mm in May.

The 34.4mm received at the weekend brought their June total to 44.4mm, which is still significantly below average.

Mr Lee said any continued spell of dry weather would have meant a very poor season for farmers in the Mingenew district.

"We were really on a knife-edge," he said.

"Our heavier country crops sown on May 11 still hadn't completely emerged.

"The canola that had germinated was lying down in the rows, it was that dry."

But Mr Lee said the weekend rain had put the season somewhat back on track.

"Given that the outlook for the coming week is for more dry weather, we would have been in serious trouble without this rain," he said.

Mr Lee said after some large downpours in March, one totalling 90mm, he was now $75,000 over budget on his knock-down chemicals.

"We just didn't have a good break here, and we had spent all that time and money knocking down the weeds from the rainfall in March," he said.

"So yes, I was very relieved with the 34mm on the weekend.

"But there is still a long way to go in the season."

Steve and Janelle Rowe, who farm with Steve's parents John and Val south of Mullewa, received between 27 and 36mm across their property.

But Mr Rowe said he was still not convinced the year would be any more than average at best.

"I'm happy to be wrong," he said.

Even though the business received some summer rain, May and June have been well below average for rain recordings.

"When you get a lot of summer rainfall, it can be really beneficial, but it can also be expensive in terms of chemicals," he said.

"Our 10-year average is around 47mm for June and so far we have had only 32mm at the home farm.

"Apart from last weekend's rain we haven't had any meaningful, double-digit rain events since early April."

Despite this he said some of the early sown canola was still looking good, with some crops flowering already.

"Our wheat is also looking OK on the moderate soils types, but the crops on the heavy clay country were struggling prior to the rainfall," he said.

"They are the crops that are going to make it an average or less than average year."

Mr Rowe said his sandy country seemed to have escaped any damage from the strong and gusty winds on Thursday morning.

"We were lucky enough to get 2mm on Wednesday night and that helped hold the top soil together," he said.

"It was a really horrible day, but it hasn't seemed to have done any damage to our crops.

"Our modern farming practices have had a huge impact on germination results so far in terms of getting the most out of the season despite the irregular and below average rainfall.

"If you can get the crop up and away, and it's got the jump on the weeds, you are ahead of the game already."

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