UPDATE: WA jags badly needed rain, light SA falls of concern

Liz Wells, June 6, 2024

WA’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development rainfall registrations in the 10 days to June 5 show around 20mm for much of the grainbelt.

  • UPDATE: Further rainfall overnight Thursday and early Friday in Western Australia has added to the already substantial totals received in recent days. Several places in the western part of the Central Wheatbelt received additional 20mm or more. In the Mid-west several welcomed many falls of about 20mm, a long time coming as it was early August 2023 when Geraldton Airport last recorded such rain.

LAST week delivered some desperately needed rain to dry sown crops in Western Australia to shore up production prospects for Australia’s biggest grain-exporting state.

With little to no subsoil moisture under most WA crops, regular follow-up falls will be needed to see it produce the 8.5 million tonnes of wheat, 4.1Mt of barley and 2.25Mt of canola forecast on Tuesday by ABARES in quarterly Australian Crop Report.

While conditions in Queensland and New South Wales are largely ideal, western Victoria could do with some rain, and South Australia’s situation is of concern, particularly on the vast Eyre Peninsula.

ABARES has SA pencilled in for 4.59Mt of wheat, 1.95Mt of barley and 470,000t of canola, and a kind spring will be needed to see those totals achieved.

Ag Innovation & Research Eyre Peninsula conducts RD&E for EP growers, and an AIR EP report prepared for Grain Central this week highlights SA’s patchy start to the season.

“When asking Eyre Peninsula farmers how seeding is going, you know the response will be ‘dry; but this season we are often hearing ‘staggered’, ‘stop-start’, ‘drawn out’ and so on,” the report said.

“During seeding, you always expect the good, bad and the ugly but like much of the state, we are seeing more of the ‘bad and the ugly’.”

AIR EP reports the past seven days have brought rain to most of EP, with some Far West coastal areas receiving up to 20mm, against 3-5mm in a single rain event on the Eastern EP.

“Many total croppers are at least 75 percent into their cropping program, with several larger farmers now finished.

“Smaller mixed farmers are being selective about the paddocks they sow as they await moisture, and prioritise soil types they are sowing into.

“Many are leaving sandy areas out of their program, or leaving them until reasonable rain is received, due to risk of drift, and some farmers have reduced canola planting due to risk of mice and germination.”

AIR EP said lentil plantings were expected to be higher than ever on EP this season.

“On the Upper EP, minimal, patchy germination has been observed.

“Sandy loam soil types have more advanced germination than heavier ground.

“Many are nervous about the staggered germination, and others are still being selective on which soil types they are choosing to dry sow, hoping for moisture over the latter half of seeding.

“Majority of farmers we have spoken to have proceeded with their regular cropping program.

“The Lower Eyre Peninsula has seen almost zero germination, apart from some random patches.

Too early to confirm as yet but this may be a risk in some of the coastal locations where crop has a slightly more advanced germination in sandy soils.

Recent windy, dry conditions have not been ideal for the Eastern Eyre.

If the long range forecast delivers rain in spring, then farmers will be optimistic about achieving average yields, but many will be mindful of frost.

The Eastern Eyre received in excess of 100mm rainfall in December 2023 so there is subsoil moisture in parts, however it will be challenging for plants to access due to the dry soil surface.

EP farmers ideally aim to commence sowing on Anzac Day, with germination expected within the following fortnight.

Based on a typical wheat variety sown in the lower parts of EP, May 20 is the target germination date, and anything beyond that can expect decreased yields,.

On Upper EP, May 1-10 is the ideal time to sow typical wheat varieties.

In the Lower, Mid and Upper North and Murray-Mallee, registrations in the week to 9am June 5 include: Auburn 23mm; Bute 14mm; Clare 20mm; Melrose 11mm, and Pinnaroo 13mm, and some locations missed out altogether.

Most Yorke Peninsula crops have had a drink in the past week, with registrations including Kadina 15mm; Maitland 11mm, and Paskeville 18mm.

On EP, registrations the week to 9am June 5 include: Cleve 17mm; Cummins and Kimba 10mm; Lock 21mm, and Wudinna 13mm.

WA rain fills in gaps

In WA, registrations in the week to 9am June 5 vary wildly within and between graingrowing zones.

In the Geraldton Zone, better falls include: Badgingarra Research Station 36mm; Minginew NW 19mm; Mullewa 29mm, and Northampton 21mm.

This will be enough to safely germinate dry-sown crops, but plenty of gauges in the zone, including Binnu, Coorow, and Yuna NE got less than 5mm.

In the Central Wheatbelt, most sites have had 5-15mm of rain in the week to yesterday, and many locations in the Albany and Esperance zone have more in places, but some have only received single-digit falls.

Grain Industry Association of WA Crop Report author, leading agronomist, and SLR Agriculture director Michael Lamond on Monday said rain of the past week or two in WA will be enough to get the crop up and away.

“If you look at the DPIRD weather site, we’re calling it a general break, but there are areas that are drier than others.”

“Anything around 10mm is enough to get a dry-sown crop up, and that will all germinate now.

“We’re going to need more follow-up; the ground is like a sponge, it’s very very dry.”

Mr Lamond said soil temperatures are two or three degrees Celsius warmer than normal for this time of year at around 17-19 degrees.

“That’s quite warm, so we’ll gain a little bit of time from that, and crops will really jump out of the ground.”

Mr Lamond said a June break is not unheard of, but the trend for spring to be warm to hot and dry made a May break better for the crop.

“It’s not unusual to get a June break; 10 or 20 years ago it wasn’t a problem, because our springs were better then.”

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