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ABC Rural brings rain to wheatbelt

Olivia Garnett and Tara de Landgrafft, Friday July 19, 2013 - 09:40 EST
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Tara Delandgrafft and Olivia Garnett co-presented the WA County Hour from the Windbreakers Nursery in Mukinbudin - ABC

Two ABC reporters toured Western Australia's north eastern wheatbelt this week, visiting some of the worst-hit parts after a record breaking dry start to winter.

But Tara Delandgrafft and Olivia Garnett were greeted with plenty of smiles in the town of Mukinbudin, 300 kilometres east of Perth, after between five and nine millimetres of rainfall fell on nearby farms on Tuesday.

This follows another significant rainfall event over much of the wheatbelt late last week which was described by some growers as a 'game changer'.

The rain might've broken the dry spell but many farmers have already been forced to make the tough decision to sell livestock and pear back seeding programs.

The area around Trayning down through Nungarin out to Westonia has had very little rain since the beginning of the year.

The crops seem to be hanging in there but germination is patchy and there is very little pasture for livestock.

For the many farmers in the district, this season represents the last roll of the dice, so this week's rain is invaluable.

Grain farmer Nick Gillett form Bencubbin has received 30 millimetres in the past week which is more than what he's had in the last three months.

"We've had about the same rainfall at this time last year which turned out to be a handy season in the end."

This year, Mr Gillett has planted more hectares than ever before.

"I think we'll still maintain our focus on cropping, we know where we're at this year so we can prune the costings back and limp through," he said.

Despite a string of challenging seasons, Mr Gillett says it's still viable to grow cereals in the eastern wheatbelt.

"We need a bit more research and development and innovation to take us forward but we see a lot of things out in the paddock which gives us confidence to go on."

Gary Shadbolt is the Shire President of Mukinbudin, he also farms ten kilometres from the small town.

"At least now we are going to get our crops out of the ground and give them an opportunity to finish off.

"I think it's soon enough."

It might be late July, but the recent rain has prompted some growers to have another go at putting a crop in.

"My cousin John just south of Mukinbudin is getting out the air seeder again, so apparently there are a few people with an eye to the future," Mr Shadbolt said.

Dr Hayden Sprigg and his family farm about 50 kilometres north of Mukinbudin and he says they were pretty lucky to get some rainfall in May, and this latest drop was just what he was looking for.

But having just completed his PhD in coping with a changing climate in farming systems, Dr Sprigg says he really should have seen this season's erratic weather coming.

"The total rainfall in the eastern wheatbelt hasn't changed a lot but the distribution has changed more out of season.

"Before the grain the crops were pretty sick but you wouldn't know looking at them now.

"It's unbelievable, the plants go from a state of no moisture to being full with moisture and it makes them look twice the size."

The recent dry weather and difficulty with banks has meant that many farms in this region are now on the market.

As clearly seen in the local papers, a large portion of the Yilgarn and Narambeen region is up for sale.

But local rural estate agent Simon Cheetham says there are opportunities out there if growers are looking for them.

"Pretty limited sales but by far the most sales are to local farmers.

"I have seen a growing trend of Perth buyers looking for lifestyle properties."

The rain has also boosted crop estimates for the state's grain handler CBH.

Kwinana zone assistant manager Alan Walker says many crops have picked up already, but for some it was simply too little, too late.

"I think in a lot of cases it's been okay to keep things ticking over.

"North and east of Merredin probably wasn't quite enough to turn the season around."

Mr Walker says he expects yields of 3.8 to 4.5 million tonnes from the whole Kwinana zone this harvest, compared to 3.7 million tonnes last year.

"We're hoping it'll be that or above this year so the next couple of weeks are going to tell the story."

Farmer's optimism of the season ahead is often judged by how much infrastructure they buy.

Corey Moylan manages Moylan Silos, the state's biggest silo manufacturer, in Kellerberrin.

During the worst years he sells between 200 and 300 silos and sheep feeders and on a good year he can turn over upwards of 1000.

Mr Moylan says farmers are wary of opening up the cheque books this year.

"Everyone's a but tentative at this stage not knowing what the season is going to bring so everyone is tightening their belt and holding out for the nice finish.

"Everything is hinged in the agricultural regions around the state having a good year, I'm 100 per cent reliant on them doing well so let's hope that happens.

"It's just shocking to see, hopefully we'll all ride it out."


© ABC 2013

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