Griffith, Weethalle and Leeton growers reported mixed feelings for this week’s rain with the general consensus being that a wet summer is needed for next year’s winter and summer produce to take off.
This month the Bureau of Meteorology reported 38 milliliters of rain as of 9am Thursday at Griffith Airport.
Yenda irrigator Chris Morshead of Amberley Pastoral Company recorded “four and a half mills” having fallen on his farm this week saying “we really need 20 mills at a time to benefit summer crop.”
“I really think the bigger problem is the run of colder weather. This week we were having a week of high teens to mid twenties and next week another cold front is forecast to come through,” Mr Morshead said.
“Most summer crops like high temperature. Cotton in particular doesn't like cool and cloudy conditions.
“That’s a concern cool temperature in the early establishment phase, it doesn't grow as robustly you don't have as much early crop vigor and any pest or disease present at the beginning can be hard for the crop to overcome,” Mr Morshead said.
Traditionally a rice grower, Mr Morshead says he is among a number of Griffith irrigators who have been diversifying their produce for several years now as the price of water soars.
“We probably have got half the rice we had last year, we replaced it with corn and hybridized seed, (also) we have got cotton, sunflowers and sorghum this year,” Mr Morshead said.
“We like to have several different crops at the moment, to reduce being impacted by a detrimental outcome in any one crop production system, including weather events and market distortion by competitors and internationally.
“Most blokes (in Griffith and Yenda) will grow a mixture of summer crops and a mixture of winter crops for the same reason,” Mr Morshead said.
The outcome of low rainfall over summer will be unlikely to cause a situation in which no crops what so ever are grown during next year’s summer and winter seasons.
Permanent water allocation in both Griffith and Yenda will give growers options to plant less thirsty crops such as cotton and even perennial trees, rather than rice, if the drought continues.
This cannot be said for Weethalle however, with their agriculture being almost entirely winter grain and live stock dependent on dry run off systems from dams.
Third generation farmer Keith Cowen who grows wheat and runs sheep and goats at his Weethalle property, said this week’s rain did little to help his situation.
Mr Cowen said he would need to see at least 50 or 60 millimeters to fall over a few days or during a single storm to see any improvement in runoff to his dams ahead of next year’s winter wheat season.
This year is the second consecutive year that Mr Cowen has had to abandon growing winter wheat, claiming local supplies of grain and hay in Weethalle including silage have almost entirely been exhausted, with Victoria supplying most of the region’s animal feed.
“It’s certainly the lowest (rainfall) that we have had in the time that we have been here, we have only had 132 mills for the year so far, and really about 200 mills is the lowest that I’ve recorded” Mr Cowen said.
“We normally plant in April and May but we never got the rains this year to plant, its very rarely we get enough rainfall for summer crops.
“Now is normally harvest time, people are really just getting seed back for next year, for most people there won’t be anything, they might get five tonne off a paddock, most of the crops have failed and they won't get through to harvest,” Mr Cowen said.
“Grain (price) is double what it normally is at the moment and was probably up about 50 per cent last year, some people are shearing early to get some income off their sheep.
This year alone Mr Cowen said that he had to sell 40 per cent of his sheep to keep his farm afloat.
“I would think the (region) would be down 50 or 60 per cent of what it would normally have in terms of sheep. Lambing percentages have been lower, and people are selling the lines that they wouldn’t normally sell, it will take two to three years for people to get back to the numbers they had before,” Mr Cowen said.
“Every farmer comes to that decision at the different times its been staggered over the last 12 months, some people have completely de-stocked and they have probably been breeding that line of sheep for two or three generations.
“It’s definitely climate change of some description, we have just got to evolve to the lower rainfall, people will increase their storage capacity, there isn't much people can do in dry areas to improve the availability of water.
“I’m pretty much hoping that maybe we’ll get some summer rainfall to top the dams up and get some moisture and hope that next year won't be another dry year,” Mr Cowen said.
So far this month the BOM has recorded 43 millimeters of rain falling at the Yanco Agricultural Institute near Leeton, with the wettest day being November 14 where 16.4 millimeters fell from the heavens.
Agronomist with AGnVET Services in Leeton, Elizabeth Munn, said while the rain was welcome, it still wasn’t enough.
“It’s definitely good for farmers who have a summer crop in and for the horticultural guys as well,” Mrs Munn said.
“For those cutting hay, they’ve had to leave it on the ground to dry, so it’s set them back.
“A lot of the dryland farmers have had very minimal, or none at all, coming off their winter crops.” Mrs Munn said.
Very little rice has been planted in the Leeton area, with the current crop expected to be down by at least 80 per cent when it is brought in around Easter next year.
Miss Munn said she knew of about five growers in Leeton who had planted rice, but only in one or two paddocks.
Normally there are around 50 growers in the Leeton area who plant rice.
Miss Munn said should the drought’s grip continue to tighten, next year would be even worse.
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