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Heavy rains a welcome sight for agricultural regions across southern South Australia

Courtney Fowler, Brooke Neindorf, Marty McCarthy and Jemima Burt, Monday August 7, 2017 - 17:20 EST
ABC image
The Onkaparinga River rose rapidly following three days of heavy rain at Barrister's Block Winery. - ABC

South Australian farmers say the heavy falls recorded across parts of the state over the weekend might be enough to turn their failing seasons around.

There was 10–30 millimetres in the gauges across towns in the Mid North and Yorke Peninsula, with parts of the Lower Eyre Peninsula and the South East seeing rainfall events in excess of 60mm.

The Adelaide Hills and Mount Lofty Ranges saw the heaviest rain across the weekend, with rainfall totals reaching up to 120mm in some areas by Sunday evening.

Although the state saw its most severe weather conditions so far this winter, no-one was complaining with the much-needed rain easing record dry conditions for grain producers in parts of the Eyre Peninsula and central Yorke Peninsula.

Rains a welcome relief for EP farmers

On the Eyre Peninsula many farmers were breathing a small sigh of relief as they saw the heavens open.

For those who put crops in, it was the rain that was desperately needed.



Port Lincoln agronomist Marc Dickie said he had heard the rain was widespread.

"I haven't had any verbals with customers yet, but it looks like they had some good rain at Streaky Bay, Wirrulla, Poochera, Wudinna, all through those areas from what I am reading," he said.

"I think the first thing it is going to mean is it will put a bit of confidence in farmers again.

"Hopefully we are going to see a boost in the amount of feed that is available on the ground, but also it will put subsoil moisture down so we can carry on in the next three to four weeks."

Despite the rain being quite heavy in some areas, Mr Dickie said he did not believe it would have an impact on the later-sown crops.

"Most crops have got a small root system established at least by now and that would have prevented any wash away or anything like that," he said.

Julian Baillie farms around the Lipson and Tumby Bay Hills area, but also has a property at Port Neill.

He said over the past eight days from Sunday to Sunday, he had up to 65 millimetres across all his properties.

"It is a huge relief to finally have a decent break because we have got crops that are barely coming out of the ground," Mr Baillie said.

"We have a mixed bag of partially established to just out the ground, so a lot of relief even though there is a long way to go."

Mr Baillie said he was starting to wonder if there was ever going to be any decent rainfall this season.

"I was starting to doubt that we were going to get substantial enough rains to turn the season properly, but yeah this has definitely given us a confidence boost," he said.

Season back on track for grain producers on YP

The weekend rainfall was also a welcome sight for thirsty crops on the central Yorke Peninsula, where farmers have battled dry conditions this winter.

Maitland farmer Ben Wundersitz said between the end of February right through to June his property had only received 30mm of rain.

"It was very dry; in May and June the crops were going backwards," he said.

"They were severely moisture stressed for over a month, so its been a bit of a battle."

However, Mr Wundersitz said following the recent rainfall, the season was starting to get back on track.

This weekend alone, he said he received half his monthly rainfall total.

"We had about 40mm earlier last week and we had about another 30mm over the weekend," he said.

"We've picked up some good totals for June and July now, so we've had about 60mm for the last month.

"The soil moisture levels on central Yorke Peninsula are nearly back up to where they would normally be at this time of year."

Mr Wundersitz said he was now feeling more optimistic about the season ahead.

"The coastal regions around central Yorke Peninsula are still down a bit; we've only really got the crop perhaps a month later than where we'd like it," he said.

"But we've still got some reasonable yield potential now, so if the finish is kind, hopefully it will turn out OK."



Cheaper cherries come Christmas

The wet winter weather over the weekend has also been welcomed by Adelaide Hills cherry growers, still recovering from a disastrous harvest last year.

The storms brought much-needed rain, with falls of up to 120mm on some farms, as well as cold snaps that will bring on flowering.

Lenswood organic cherry grower Gary Beaton said they got 120 millimetres of rain over the weekend, ahead of the important blossom season.

"Whilst there was some wind it wasn't like the savage wind that caused most of damage last year, so this rain is great and we welcome it," Mr Beaton said.

"We now have good soil moisture, residual moisture, which is important leading into spring."



Last year freak storms wiped out the majority of the cherry crop in the Adelaide Hills, with most farmers only able to harvest about 20 per cent of their crop.

The damage resulted in high cherry prices, as much as $28kg, however Mr Beaton expects they could be $5 to $10 cheaper this year.

"If spring is normal we should have plenty of good quality South Australian cherries for consumers at what should be the normal purchase prices," Mr Beaton said.

"We are hoping that we don't disappoint customers anymore, and we were also disappointed last year, but this year rest assured there should be plenty there."

Rising rapids a spectacle for wine lovers

The rising waterways in parts of the Adelaide Hills did not deter wine lovers from the region across the weekend.

Despite a flood alert and gale warnings for parts of the Mount Lofty Ranges, tourists braved the weather to pack out the Barristers Block winery in Woodside.

Owner Jan Simmalink-Allan said the rapidly rising Onkaparinga River was quite a spectacle for customers across the weekend.

"We do have the river running through the centre of the property, most of the time it looks like a little innocuous creek but it certainly blew up over the weekend," she said.

"We definitely had around four inches [100mm] of rain, perhaps a bit over; it was continually raining at our property, with the peak of it about 7pm last night.

"A lot of our wonderful customers supported us on Sunday, we could watch the river from the cellar door and it was naturally a topic of interest."

Ms Simmalink-Allan said the torrential rain was welcomed, with long-term forecasts predicting a drier year to come.

"I don't think this is going to affect the grapes; it's just going to slow down a bit of the work in the vines at the moment," she said.

"But at the moment we needed those soaking rains, because we had a fairly dry autumn, so I think it's really good for us to have this sort of rain.

"It's going to be an interesting season, the long-term forecast is looking at less rain, so I suppose that means that we will be irrigating earlier if that's the case."



Heavy rain not so welcome in the lower South East

Crop farmers are having mixed reaction to the weekend's significant rainfall in the south east of the state.

Naracoorte agronomist James Heffernan said they received more rain than the region needed.



"It's very wet. A good 50mm across the area," he said.

"We had quite a wet July and 50mn is probably a bit too much for us down here around Naracoorte and south of Naracoorte.

"You'd bog a duck around here."

Mr Heffernan said farmers who got fertiliser on early were rejoicing, but some had noticed the water table was becoming too full around Bool Lagoon.

"A lot of our crops around Naracoorte navigate around the water table, and that has been rising steadily over the last month," he said.

"This last 50mm will bring it to ground level unfortunately.

"We need some good mild conditions to keep the crops moving forward.

"We don't want any more significant rain events now."


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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