Croppers on edge as dry winter drags on

Croppers on edge as dry winter drags on

Cropping
HOPES HANGING: Adrian Bormann says his Sanderston crops are travelling "OK" considering they have received only about 30mm of rain since April.

HOPES HANGING: Adrian Bormann says his Sanderston crops are travelling "OK" considering they have received only about 30mm of rain since April.

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A SEASON full of promise is at a critical juncture for many SA croppers, with a dry June and July curbing much of the optimism present after good opening rains.

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A SEASON full of promise is at a critical juncture for many SA croppers, with a dry June and July curbing much of the optimism present after good opening rains.

In the midst of a 2.5-year dry spell at Sanderston on the Murray Plains, Adrian Bormann said 15 millimetres of rain on Anzac Day and 45mm in April was a good start, but it may have been a false dawn.

"We've only had small amounts since really, with 15mm in May and 11mm in June," he said.

"Between every small rain, the crops are wilting and struggling. Then a rainfall of 2-3mm comes along and seems to revive them enough until the next one.

"Our saving grace has been the fact that we haven't had a lot of wind. The past month has generally been calm, which has helped stop drying things out."

Mr Bormann, who farms with wife May and their three children, grows wheat, barley, peas, lupins, vetch for hay and seed replacement, canola and oats.

He said most crops were doing "OK" considering they had received just 118mm for the year, when their annual average rainfall ranged from 250-325mm across the farm.

Mr Bormann said they had noticed a great deal of rainfall variability across their land this year, with 20mm more falling towards the east than at their homestead.

"We're still a bit nervous because we've got a little bit bigger crops than the rainfall probably allows and there's not much moisture in the tank," he said.

The uncertainty of what lays ahead is understandable given the past two seasons endured by the Bormanns.

They had averaged only 0.2 tonnes a hectare to 0.5t/ha for wheat and barley when they would normally expect a farm-wide average of 2-2.5t/ha, with 3t/ha yields on their better ground.

Mr Bormann said they needed a good soaking.

"We haven't had a large rain at all, the biggest for the season was that 15mm on Anzac Day," he said.

"We're still thankful for what we've got because you don't have to go much further north and it peters out again."

Crops on heavier soil types are struggling around Cleve on the Eyre Peninsula, according to Cleve Rural Traders agronomist Geoff Rissmann.

"Things are certainly tonguing for a drink and some crops are starting to go backwards," he said.

"Some crops on lighter soil types at Heggaton and Gum Flat don't look too bad and an unexpected rain last Friday made a big difference and probably bought us another week.

"Crops on heavier soil types through Mangalo are in need of a drink.

"There are some hilly rises which have been able to catch a shower and they're hanging on, but still not looking great."

Mr Rissmann said there had only been 20mm of rain in both May and June, with about the same in July.

"That good April start we had is running out fairly quickly," he said.

"We're going to need 60mm at least in August to make a decent season.

"We've just got no subsoil moisture - everything's living on heavy dews and 3-5mm every 10 days and the crop stage is getting too big for those small moisture amounts."

Despite a very dry winter to-date, Mr Rissmann said there was still optimism among growers.

"There are some crops starting to push up a bit more than we'd like to see at this time of year, but there's reasonable potential in them," he said.

"A good rain and soft spring will allow good grain development, good head fill and hopefully an extended flowering in lupin and canola crops."

Platinum Ag Services Crystal Brook agronomist Ian Jones said there was a great deal of variability in the area he covered.

Crops around Crystal Brook and north of Port Pirie were progressing well, conditions at Snowtown and on the Condowie Plains looked very dry, while pastures and crops were "under the hammer" near Hallett and Burra following frosts.

One region set to benefit from a dry June and July is the Lower South East, where Nutrien Naracoorte agronomist James Heffernan said croppers had enjoyed a good start to the season, average rainfall for the year and a drier-than-average July.

"Crops are looking healthy and there's no waterlogging issues, which is usually our biggest concern," he said.

"We've had frosts, but they don't impact crops at this time of year other than a general slowing in growth, so we won't see any production losses."

Mr Heffernan said there had been some sporadic cutworm and redlegged earth mite encountered this year, but nothing out of the ordinary.

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