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Rains fill up Westonia dams

Headshot of Jenne Brammer
Jenne BrammerThe West Australian

Only a couple of years ago, the region around Southern Cross was so dry that it was used as an example of how some WA farmers needed drought funding assistance.

But last week's downpour put a smile on the faces of many local producers, such as Steve and Joan Smith, who farm 35km north of Westonia, and received 135.5mm, marking their biggest winter rain event since 1999.

"This rain is game-changing and we are really hoping it will save our bacon," Mrs Smith said.

"We can now almost see the crops and pastures changing and growing before our eyes."

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Mrs Smith described their 3700ha 2015 cropping program, prior to last week's rains, as varied and patchy.

"We had good opening rains at the start of March and good follow-up rains mid-April, but then two dry subsequent months until it rained again at the end of June," she said.

"We reseeded some crops at the start of July as some did not germinate."

But the welcome 135.5mm has drastically turned that situation around.

She said because it was a slow soaking rain over a matter of days, very little waterlogging or flood damage had occurred.

The last time the Smiths had a particularly good cropping year was 2003, when their wheat crop averaged more than 2 tonnes/ha.

"Since then we have really been hanging in there by the skin of our teeth due to dry conditions - it's really only our sheep operation that has kept us afloat," she said.

She said they were now hopeful the latest rains meant they could this season achieve above average cropping returns of more than one tonne/ha for wheat. Anything more is considered a bonus.

Prior to the rains, the Smiths were also on the verge of having to handfeed their sheep, but said this rain would lead to ample feed. This year their 1800 breeding ewes achieved a 100 per cent lambing percentage, so feed demand was particularly strong .

Mrs Smith said a further benefit to the farm was that every one of the 35 dams on the property was full or overflowing, a situation she had not seen in more than 15 years.

"This places us well for about five years. The rain has been very precious for many reasons," she said.

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