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Unseasonably long dry spell leaves WA crops under threat, farmers under pressure

Frances Bell, Monday June 19, 2017 - 18:15 EST
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Amery Drage is still hoping for rain very soon, despite the dry start to winter. - ABC

WA farmers are running out of time to save their crops from an unseasonably long dry spell, with this week's forecast rain expected to bypass some of the state's worst-affected areas.

Northampton farmer Amery Drage said his canola crop was wilting but appeared to be hanging on.

"June's normally our wettest month, normally around 100 [millimetres], but so far we've had 2 [millimetres]," he said.

"We need a fairly decent rain soon just to stop everything stressing, because every day that's potential running away, and it's starting to get pretty late now.

"We're still fairly positive that the season could change."



Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster James Ashley said isolated showers were expected in parts of the Wheatbelt on Wednesday and Thursday.

"But that will be fairly patchy so some places will probably miss out whereas others will see 10 millimetres or more," he said.

WA Farmers Federation president Tony York said about 5,000 farming businesses were affected across the south west of the state, particularly in the north and north east of the region.

"You can probably confidently say that it's going to take $1 billion now of last year's crop," he said.



Mr York said this week's rain was unlikely to make much difference.

"It's not too late but the likelihood of having an average crop is dropping very rapidly at the moment as more days go by without rain," he said.

"There will be farmers that are starting to get anxious and starting to worry about how they're going to manage.

"But it has happened before and we need to remember ... that these experiences are not unique, it's part of farming and being dependent on the environment."

Whole community 'feels the pinch'

Mental health and support agencies are reporting an increase in contact from affected communities in recent weeks.

The Regional Men's Health Initiative, based in Northam, held five "community get-togethers" in dry areas of the Wheatbelt last week, with another three scheduled this week.

"People are saying to us 'we stopped spending money say a week ago or 10 days ago because we have to'," said executive officer Owen Catto.

"So the whole community feels the pinch in circumstances like we've got at the minute."



He said there were often clear signs when people were feeling the pressure from a tough season.

"Generally for us as blokes it's actually talking less, and just shutting down and stopping that being connected in community, so not playing bowls or not playing footy or not being involved," Mr Catto said.

"We just say to try and engage, and if we're concerned about our son or our brother, is to definitely ask three times, if you've got that gut feel."


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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