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Farmers fear too much rain at the wrong time could ruin their first harvest in years

By Amelia Bernasconi, Sunday September 27, 2020 - 07:15 EST
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Matt Norrie shares a photo of dark clouds circling his property at Narrabri. - Audience submitted

Usually when it comes to rain, farmers always want more.

But just weeks out from the first harvest in four years for many New South Wales growers, the timing of rain could ruin the crops they have nurtured for months.

A weak , meaning a wetter season than usual, according to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).

Craig Tomlinson, who farms near Bellata in north-west NSW, received more than 40 millimetres earlier this week, which he said came in the nick of time to help finish his wheat and barley — but much more in a month's time could have a significant impact.

"[The rain] put a fairly good smile on my face," he said.

"[It came] at a time when the wheat's starting to fill and finish flowering; getting ready at the money end of the season."

Mr Tomlinson said rain was important to help a strong yield.

"These rain events are very important to top-up the soil and keep that plant pushing along to reach its full potential," he said.

"Every week [without rain] you lose a certain amount [of yield].

"We won't need too much more for [ours] to finish off now."

But the rain was patchy, and left other growers in the north-west of the state still holding out for more falls to give their crops a final boost.

"There's a couple of later crops that I know of that will probably need a little, fraction more [rain]," Mr Tomlinson said.

Many have been hoping for more rain, in the vicinity of 25 to 75 millimetres, before mid-October, when harvest will begin.

"Definitely the weather side of it has been very hard to pick," Mr Tomlinson said.

"The harvest will be an anxious one."

Harvest outlook wetter than average

The BOM outlook suggests October and November will be wetter than average this year.

"We would be expecting to get more than the median rainfall, right across the eastern part of the country really, that's through the month of October," said meteorologist Helen Reid.

"Not just higher totals, but more of them as well. We have a very high chance of getting more than 25mm [in October].

"If we're looking at getting above 50mm through the north-eastern part of NSW, there is still a reasonable likelihood of that as well — that's for October."

Mr Tomlinson said an "inch wouldn't be detrimental" but multiple days of wet weather could bring undone his best crop ever.

"It's potentially the best crop I've grown [in nearly 20 years]," he said.

"Over the whole area, every paddock is good. Usually you have one paddock that lets you down, but I haven't found that this year.

"It's the days of rain causes wheat to get downgraded, more so than the amount we get in a short period.

"You try not to worry about it but it's always in the back of your mind — that a big rain event could be just around the corner."

The BOM said November was also expected to yield higher-than-average falls, but to a lesser extent than October.

It is a little early to pinpoint exactly when the heavens will open, but growers have a general attitude that they will weather the storm and get through harvest as best they can — with many looking forward to their first significant income in years.

Any inflows into major storage dams will lead to the potential for increased irrigation water that growers will be banking on to grow summer crops, like sorghum and cotton.

"The drought won't be over until we see dams like Keepit and Copeton full, and I think that's something we've got to be very mindful of," Mr Tomlinson said.

"We're just living on what's coming out of the sky at the moment, we haven't got that ground moisture that we were so accustomed to five and 10 years ago."


© ABC 2020

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