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Wandering farm battles dry

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian

Given the reasonably wet season, it may be strange to hear that Wandering farmers Paul and Monica Treasure are having their driest year since 2010, meaning they have only recently reduced hand-feeding their livestock and water supplies are at critical levels.

The Treasures, who farm with Mr Treasure's extended family, said they had received just 247mm for the growing season, about 30 per cent lower than their annual average, sitting at a decile 1 level.

Mr Treasure said although this may sound like a reasonable amount of rain, the forest gravels on their property required significantly more to create ideal moisture profiles for pastures and crops to thrive due to their non-wetting nature.

"Nearly all our dams are well below a third of capacity and it's a real concern for stock water going forward this summer," he said.

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"We had a drilling company come in during July and we were lucky enough to find water in one of five pilots drilled.

"So we have a capped bore now which will help drought-proof around three or four paddocks, plus secure domestic supply."

The Treasures predominantly operate a grazing business, with around 3800 Merino ewes joined to Merino and terminal sires and 260 breeder cows.

Mr Treasure said they may have to consider turning off dry stock earlier than usual if they do not have a soft finish and water supplies remain tight. "That said, one significant rainfall event in the coming few weeks could solve all of our problems," he said.

The cropping program for the year has seen 430ha sown to mainly oats, but also some barley and canola. Much of this will be held on-farm for stock feed and hay.

The Treasures did not start seeding until late May, preferring to wait for a good weed germination before sowing and because of a lack of an early pick for their livestock.

Mr Treasure said their earliest crops and paddocks sown into stubbles had held up reasonably well considering the dry conditions and early frosts, though below-average yields were still expected.

He said elsewhere in the district, crops which were sown earlier were looking in far better shape.

"Farmers who got paddocks in prior to the rain in the third week of May are in a much better position, especially their canola and oats," he said.

"This came off the back of good paddock preparation and a double knock.

"Even though the extended dry spells had seen some severe Manganese deficiency and Rhizoctonia in some cereal crops, many will see reasonable yields provided there is an average finish to the season."

Mr Treasure said this season's rainfall had so far delivered just 20mm more than 2010, which was the family's worst year in living memory. "The good thing this year is that what rainfall we have had has arrived when really needed," he said.

Mr Treasure said sometimes the drier years saw better crops in the area due to the effects water logging can have in normal rainfall years, when well over 300mm would normally be expected during the growing season.

Despite the particularly dry year, Mr Treasure is upbeat.

He said strong commodity prices across the board should help this year with beef, sheep, wool and oats at good levels.

The family also had one of their best seasons on record during 2014.

Excess grain is now mostly sold and delivered direct to Quaker Oats and more recently to Premium Grain Handlers as CBH had closed the local Wandering bin for receivals.

He said last year CBH had decided to use its local bin to store grain which was carted in before harvest to empty bins further east.

"To deliver to CBH we have to cart backwards to either Narrakine or Brookton, which is a 150km round trip and is just not economical," he said.

"It used to be an 8km trip when Wandering was open for receivals.

"Fortunately we are in a positon to be able to cart direct to Quakers in Forrestfield plus, and have the option of PGH's facility for oats in Wandering."

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