Rain brings relief, winds havoc

Melissa Williams and Kate PollardCountryman

Farmers across most of the Wheatbelt are celebrating "season making" rains after a week of wild weather that wreaked havoc across southern districts and caused transport and shipping disruptions for the State's major grain exporter.

A tropical low from the north that met a southern cold front last weekend dumped 50-80mm of rain across the northern agricultural region.

In the seven days to Tuesday morning, Geraldton town had recorded 105mm, Nabawa 94mm, Morawa 73mm and Roebourne, in the Pilbara, 84mm. This was closely followed by the strongest cold front to cross the coast this winter, which brought falls of 20-60mm through central and eastern Wheatbelt areas, 15-40mm across much of the Great Southern, 15-30mm on the south coast and up to 100mm in the South West.

Wind gusts and severe gales of up to 139km/h - on a par with a category two cyclone - on Sunday and Monday left a trail of destruction across the South West, Great Southern, south coastal regions and metropolitan area.

Farmers reported major damage to infrastructure, including sheds, fences, houses, machinery and silos.

A piggery in Tenterden lost five pig sheds that were each weighed down by more than a tonne of cement and silos were ripped out of bolts cemented to the ground.

Trees were uprooted and topsoil lost from paddocks about to be cropped. It is expected repairs could take several years.

Cranbrook Shire chief executive Peter Northover said there had been widespread damage from Cranbrook to Frankland and several schools were forced to close.

"Every road in the shire has had damage from fallen trees," he said.

While local crews have been working since 4pm on Sunday to clean the damage and will do so for the coming weeks, Mr Northover said local farmers had also pitched in.

"Farmers have been using their own machinery to help with the clean-up and it shows a real sense of community," he said.

_There was record damage to Western Power's network that left about 9400 regional and rural residents and businesses without power on Tuesday. _

In addition, CBH experienced interruptions to its rail and road transport network and its shipping activities this week due to debris, power outages and tidal surges.

Another severe weather front forecast for the middle of this week could be followed by thunderstorms and then a clear spell for a few days, according to Bureau of Meteorology media and community relations manager Neil Bennett.

Depending on the intensity of the second front, Mr Bennett said the seven-day forecast indicated there could be further widespread falls for agricultural areas.

"Although it is early days, there is a chance of another frontal system moving in from the Indian Ocean early next week," he said.

This rainfall activity has arrived just in time to revive early-sown crops, germinate those still in the ground and allow farmers to finish seeding.

Geraldton-based agronomist Richard Quinlan, of Planfarm Agronomy, said most of his northern region clients had received 35 to 80mm of rain this week, which had come in the nick of time for most crops.

"After one of the longest dry spells we have experienced in this region at this time of the year, only a small proportion of crops will be lost," he said.

Mr Quinlan said the previous rainfall event in the region was on May 7 and crops sown before that date had survived reasonably well, especially in areas that received more than 25mm at that time.

He said crops sown on heavier soils were dying, but were only a small percentage of total crop plantings in the region.

"For the bulk of farmers up here, the timing of the rain this week has been magnificent," he said.

"There has not been much run-off and most of it has soaked into the ground.

"For the crops that hadn't germinated, they will get away now and for those that were out of the ground, they will be saved by this rain."

Mr Quinlan said for later sown crops, farmers may need to review post-emergent fertiliser regimes, because there could be potential yield loss.

But he said crops that had survived from the May 7 rainfall germination should have normal yield potential and be treated as usual.

"We will now be looking for further rain as payback for the rain we missed in May to fill the soil profile and we hope to get good rainfalls during June," he said.

Further south in Mukinbudin, Gary Shadbolt received 29mm in the rain gauge in the four days to Tuesday this week, after desperately waiting for a follow-up to the 12mm he received on May 5.

He said farmers throughout the shire received 25 to 35mm this week and it had saved the district's 2012 cropping season.

Mr Shadbolt said about half of his wheat program had been sown dry and the bulk would survive after this week's rain and have potential for reasonable yields.

Neil and Maureen Argent, who farm at Kulin, said this year's start to their 2600ha cropping program was one of the best in five years after falls of 16 to 20mm to Tuesday morning on their two properties.

In early May, the Argents recorded solid opening rains of 28mm and started seeding.

In the past few years their seeding programs have been kick-started with less than half of that amount of rainfall and limited summer rain.

"This year we had a wet summer and the follow-up rain this week from the falls early last month has been a godsend," Mrs Argent said.

"We have about 80 per cent of our cropping program in the ground and aim to finish the remainder by the end of this week."

Further east at Southern Cross, Peter Dunbar said the 23 to 25mm that had fallen throughout the district early in the week would save many wilting crops.

He said for some farmers it would kick-start seeding programs on hold due to the dry start.

"We will be looking for a lot more winter and spring rain to get a reasonable yield and make a profit this year," he said.

"But it is looking a lot better out here now than it was two weeks ago."

Narrogin and Lake Grace Department of Agriculture and Food WA area manager Keith Devenish said about a quarter of the region's crops were sown early and would get a reprieve from this week's rain.

He said areas around Merredin, Bonnie Rock and Southern Cross had been a concern, but with 30mm in the gauge in many of these districts, the outlook was more positive.

Mr Devenish said farmers in Lake King, Holt Rock and Newdegate had received 12 to 20mm to the start of this week, which was enough for crop germination, but they would be looking for follow-up rain to boost soil moisture levels.

He said there were concerns about lamb deaths this week, with high numbers of lambs on the ground and severe sheep weather warnings being issued.

It was recommended sheep farmers ensure good shelter and feed for ewes with lambs at foot.

Mr Devenish said it would take some time for pastures to get away and producers would need to continue supplementary feeding livestock for some time.

CBH general manager operations Colin Tutt said the widespread rain this week was a boost for the State's agricultural sector, but had caused havoc to the group's transport network.

He said trees and debris on railway lines in the Albany zone had shut down rail freight services on Monday and Tuesday and road transport was also hampered in this region and around Geraldton.

Mr Tutt said grain shipments were interrupted at the start of the week in Kwinana, Geraldton and Albany due to power outages and tidal surges. He said about six ships were affected and delays were costing about $10,000 to $15,000 a day during this peak shipping period for the company.

To date, CBH has shipped about 8.2 million tonnes out of WA and 8.1 million tonnes remains to be shipped.

Mr Tutt said about 1 million tonnes a month was being shipped from Kwinana and he expected the weather would cause disruptions at this major port for the rest of this week.

He said about 50,000 tonnes of grain could also be potentially rain damaged from this week's freak weather events.

CBH estimated about 50 tarpaulins at its receival points right across the southern agricultural area had been damaged, each containing about 1000 tonnes of grain.

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