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Dry start to winter doesn't put off young farmer willing to trust science

By Simon Royal, Monday June 19, 2017 - 07:43 EST
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Flynn with his dad Alex McGorman and dog Jazz on the farm at Sanderston. - ABC

Faced with one of the driest beginnings to winter in living memory, young Sanderston farmer Alex McGorman has done what he says is the only logical thing to do: he's put in a crop.

"You've got to be daring, it's what we do," Mr McGorman said.

"We've managed to get our crops in and up, whereas other farmers around this district and around the state who are still doing the traditional methods, or haven't yet got their crops in yet, I think they are going to be too late and may struggle to get their crops through."

Mr McGorman said the Sanderston district, on the eastern slops of the Mount Lofty Ranges, gets an average of about 300 millimetres of rain a year, which puts it well behind places like Mallala in the Mid North or parts of Lower Eyre Peninsula and Yorke Peninsula.

But what little rain that has fallen has come at the right time.

"We are still running on subsoil moisture from the big rains during last December," Mr Mc Gorman said.

"We had a decent fall around Anzac Day and then about 25 points last Friday, so it's been enough to get through."

Drier than usual winter tipped

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Tom Boeck said apart from a small patch on the eastern seaboard, the entire country has experienced a dry start to winter, with South Australia no exception.

"For this winter it has been extremely dry and so the first couple of weeks of June have been amongst the driest we've seen in South Australia," Mr Boeck said.



The good news according to Mr Boeck? The pattern won't automatically follow that a dry winter means a dry spring.

The bad news is the bureau's outlook is for a drier than usual winter.

"The indications for the winter period is that rainfall will be below the medium, that is what our seasonal outlook is suggesting," Mr Boeck said.

Primary Producers SA chairman Rob Kerin said it's not only been a dry start, but a strange one.

"It's been patchy," Mr Kerin said.

"That's because the areas that are normally very reliable are missing out ... while some of the other areas, that often find it difficult to get a start, they in fact have got a start.

"In the end though, everyone is looking for rain now."

Mr Kerin warned if it stayed overly dry, the consequences for the state's economy could affect us all.

"Those really high producing areas, like the middle of Yorke Peninsula, Lower Eyre Peninsula, if they don't get rain soon then that's going to put a huge dent in the state's GSP (gross state product) because those areas pump a lot of money into the state year after year."

Spartacus variety offers farmers' hope

So what would give a farmer, like Alex McGorman, the confidence to take a risk in a season such as this?



The answer is two-fold: science and new farming techniques.

Mr McGorman said not long ago, it would have been a different story.

"Twenty years ago at the start of a season like this, we'd have still been running around working the country back, we'd have been drying it out further and so if we had put a crop in, it wouldn't have been able to germinate."

These days most farmers aim to work the soil as little as possible, saving fuel, chemicals and most importantly, moisture.

Most farmers leave the stubble from the previous year's crop, anchoring the soil against erosion.

And after a trial run last year, Mr McGorman has planted out a new variety of malting barley (which means eventually it will become beer) called Spartacus.

It was developed in Australia and Mr McGorman said its great advantage is it's resistant to herbicides.

That means farmers don't lose valuable time, and soil moisture, waiting for weeds to germinate, spraying them, then waiting a bit longer before sowing a crop.

"We wouldn't have been able to do this with the old varieties of barley," Mr McGorman said.

"Without science and technology, we'd be waiting around, the crop wouldn't be in and we'd really be tossing up whether to have a go or not.

"We can grow crops on less rainfall than we ever have in the past and I believe we will grow something this year ... we could still have a reasonable season with the right sort of spring."

For farmers hope springs eternal, even if the skies are not springing a leak.


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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