Wet Wheatbelt joy for farmers

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

Farmers across the Wheatbelt cannot wipe the smiles from their faces at some of the best rains to start a grain-growing season in decades.

The rain brought much- needed relief to the drought- affected far northern and eastern Wheatbelt and came at just the right time as seeding began.

WA's biggest grain grower John Nicoletti said rain reached areas where it had been bone-dry for months and gave hope to hundreds of farmers.

Mr Nicoletti was on his farm at Westonia yesterday that copped a 23mm soaking, along with properties at Mullewa (59mm), Bonnie Rock (43mm), Bullfinch (42mm) and Southern Cross (40mm).

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"Most of our country hasn't had a drop of rain for seven or eight months," he said. "In the past three or four days Mullewa has had nearly as much rain as it had all of last year.

"It is a fantastic start. We can seed into moisture for the next three to four weeks and get the crops out of the ground. Last year crops didn't come out of the ground until mid-July.

"I don't want to get too carried away but it is only going to take an average winter to average about 1.3 tonnes a hectare and I'd be happy with that."

The rain also covered parts of the Wheatbelt where farmers grew their best-ever crops last season as WA surged to a record 17 million-tonne harvest worth more than $5 billion to the local economy.

Brothers Darren and Bryn Jasper, coming off their best harvest, were busy seeding on their farm near Cunderdin yesterday after about 60mm of rain at the weekend.

"It is the best opening rain I can remember," Darren, 48, said.

"You hope for the best from the weather gods, but you can't expect the best every year. If it is a good average year, we'll be very happy."

The Jaspers are sowing canola for the first time to complement their wheat, lupin and hay crops after moving away from sheep.

The skies opened up just as some growers considered scaling back cropping programs because of the lack of rain.

Co-operative Bulk Handling operations manager David Capper said the season was off to a flying start.

He said CBH was set to export all but about 200,000 tonnes of the 15.85 million tonnes it received last season in a sign of strong demand for WA grain.

Many growers, including Mr Nicoletti, have locked in good prices for this season's harvest.

The price of standard grade wheat is well above $300/tonne and the weekend rain sparked new interest in forward selling.

'Mullewa has had nearly as much rain as it had all of last year.'"Grain grower *John Nicoletti *

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