THE state's farmers are nervously looking to the skies.
It is still a few weeks off the traditional Anzac Day break, but with limited subsoil moisture, opening rains will be crucial.
The Bureau of Meteorology's climate outlook for April to the end of June hasn't given farmers much to go on, with the maps showing about a 50 per cent chance of exceeding median rainfall for the next three months.
The probability is down to 35-40pc for the Fleurieu Peninsula and parts of the Eyre Peninsula.
Rural Directions agronomist Richard Saunders says it is "bone dry" in most of the southern Mallee to 60 centimetres, but during soil sampling in the northern Mallee, he has been surprised to find moisture at 35cm, especially in sandier soils.
"There is a little bit of confidence there, but there is a big dry band between seeding depth and 35cm down," he said.
We have had to buy feed from further afield than normal, such as Port Lincoln and South West Vic, which has also been very expensive.
He says it has been unseasonally dry, with Loxton recording little rain for the year, but he says those that had summer sprayed were well-placed with some paddocks containing caltrop, melons and other weeds.
"One of the tricks to farming in the Mallee is saving moisture from summer rains - summer weed spraying is one of the best returns on investment," he said.
Elders Cummins agronomist Luke Nettle says it has been a "long, dry spell" on the lower EP too, with no substantial rain since October.
He says farmers were still hopeful rain would come soon.
"In the past week or so people have got the tractors out doing some maintenance," he said.
"The bigger farmers will start going because they need to start somewhere, but those with small acreages may wait if it stays dry."
Feed costs spike
IN the Mid Murray region, the McGorman family had well below-average rainfall last year and no meaningful rain recorded this year.
"Our annual rainfall average is about 350mm at Cambrai, we had about 140mm last year," Ryan McGorman said.
"Like most farms in this district, our crops yielded well below average."
The McGormans also run a feedlot on their family farm, which has been heavily impacted by the big dry.
"We have had to buy (grain, straw and hay) from further afield than normal, such as Port Lincoln and South West Vic, which has also been very expensive," Mr McGorman said.
"We have also had to dedicate a lot more time trying to find feed. We go through about 30 tonnes of feed a week, so we have to make sure we don't run out."
Mr McGorman said feed costs had risen from about $20 a head to $52/hd this season.
Despite the lack of moisture, their seeding plans remain the same, with sheep feed and some vetch dry sown from Anzac Day.
"Hopefully there has been a break in the season before or by then to keep the program going," Mr McGorman said.
Waiting game continues for big dry to break
After years of drought, many parts of Qld and northern NSW have finally received much-needed rains, but SA farmers are still waiting for a change to the weather pattern.
Late last month there were a few isolated falls of up to 25 millimetres in the North East pastoral areas, but most agricultural areas received just 5-10mm for March - not even enough to settle the dust.
Moolooloo Station near Blinman in the Flinders Ranges jagged 25mm - its biggest rain since September.
Lisa Slade says it has "freshened up" the bush and lifted their spirits.
But she would dearly like to see another rain, with only about half of their annual rainfall falling in the past year.
"There is a bit of green poking through but it is still pretty dry," she said.
"It won't do much unless we get another rain, but this is bittersweet knowing a lot of people didn't receive significant falls, if any at all, and we are definitely grateful for what we did receive.
"The past few rains we only got small falls and our rainwater was at critical levels. We were considering trucking in rainwater so it has at least put a bit of water in the tanks."
Moolooloo is running about 4000 Merino sheep - about half its capacity - and has sold off all its cattle.
But Mrs Slade says they are fortunate to have been able to move some of their breeding ewes south to a property at Murray Town, which they bought a couple of years ago.
Strong commodity prices are also helping them through the dry times.
"Our wool clip is down a bit, but at least we are making reasonable money," Mrs Slade said.
"Unfortunately it is going straight into food and freight, but at least we are holding onto a few sheep."
Cox Rural senior agronomist Scott Hutchings, Keith, said economically, 2018 was a very good season for Upper South East farmers, despite receiving below-average rainfall.
"We got a lot of rain in August which got us through and we had enough moisture to grow slightly above-average crops," he said.
But Mr Hutchings says since the beginning of September, the cumulative rainfall for Keith has been the fourth lowest in the past 100 years, with no significant rainfall of 10mm of more since December.
"Our subsoil moisture is very low and dryland lucerne is not growing back after it has been grazed. We can't complain though, when you look at the rest of the state," he said.
Mr Hutchings says the long, dry period has strengthened hay prices and helped the pollination of lucerne crops which has translated into "very good seed yields".
He says farmers are really looking for rain to grow feed, especially with many flocks lambing.
"Significant rain would be very welcome with livestock producers well into hand feeding and the ground really powdered up," he said.
"With no rain on the horizon in the next 10 to 14 days, we are not going to see any significant amount of dry seeding to utilise any rain coming."