Showers herald sowing

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

Showers forecast for the next few days across most of WA’s agricultural areas, from the northern zones to the east, are expected to kick off seeding operations across the State.

As the traditional Anzac Day sowing date approached, farmers had been looking towards the skies for that burst of moisture to get their machinery rolling .

But even if there is a lack of subsoil moisture, optimism is high after the record crops of last season.

Walebing farmer Kristin Lefroy says he’s still confident of a good year ahead.

With the tractor wheels already turning, Mr Lefroy is already a week into his 2014 cropping program, and he anticipates over half his crops could be dry seeded before he sees any significant break.

Mr Lefroy, with his wife Tracy and their three children, farm 32km east of Moora.

This year, he plans on cropping 4500 ha, or just over 70 per cent of his property.

He says the remainder of his farm is not arable for cropping and, as result, he runs 4000 ewes and 100 head of cattle.

With an annual long-term rainfall average of 400mm, Mr Lefroy says the 30-year average is now down to 380mm.

"So we've lost over an inch in the last 30 years," he said.

Which means much of the district is moving more and more into cropping, with less of a reliance on livestock.

But going against that trend the Lefroys plan to keep their livestock in the long term, particularly as they run Cranmore Merino stud.

Mr Lefroy's great-grandfather established the stud, originally to stock the Lefroy family stations in the north of the State, in the early part of the century. These days, the Lefroy family are happy to be focused on their Walebing property.

"I'm always nervous at this time of year, but I'm confident as well," Mr Lefroy said.

Unlike many Wheatbelt farmers who have been spared an arduous summer-spraying program this year, the dry summer has presented some significant challenges for the Lefroys' business.

In fact, Mr Lefroy said he's now starting to get concerned at the serious lack of water for his sheep and cattle.

"The major stress we have at the moment is water for livestock," he said.

"It's been a particularly long, dry summer - the driest summer I've ever experienced.

"We've got 40 dams on our place, and 30 of them are dry, which is unusual. We've never had this many dry dams before."

As a result, his dry seeding program has already been altered to ensure stock have access to usable dams.

"When we started seeding we had to be fairly strategic," Mr Lefroy said

"We don't want to crop the paddocks that have all the water, and we've dropped two paddocks out of canola because of the need to allow stock access to the dams in those paddocks."

However, he still plans to seed 930ha to Triazine Tolerant canola.

"We have grown Roundup Ready canola in the past, but we haven't needed to this year," Mr Lefroy said.

"From an economic perspective, TT canola is cheaper to grow, and we receive more for it, even though it doesn't yield as well as Roundup Ready.

"So economically, our business is probably better off using the Triazine Tolerant varieties if we can."

Five hundred hectares will be sown to Hindmarsh feed barley, 800ha to Baudin and Bass barley, 200ha to export hay, 300ha to oats, 140ha to grazing oats and 480ha to clover.

The remaining 1200ha will be put into wheat, which will be predominantly Mace.

"We are also going to put in a bit of Wyalkatchem, we know this variety performs well in a tight year, so this is our insurance," he said.

Mr Lefroy is also taking part in a series of crop grazing trails with the Moora-Milling Pasture Improvement Group, one of the oldest farm improvement groups in the country.

"We've crop grazed for the last few years and while we did have a yield penalty last year in the canola, there was none on cereals," he said.

"We had the stock in just a day too long in the canola."

"We've really only got a window of about three weeks, starting in early July," he said.

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