DRY sowing is turning from an option to a necessity for many SA croppers as the state continues to wait for significant season-opening rains.
Growers and agronomists across the state are reporting a lack of subsoil moisture and very dry paddock conditions as seeding gets underway, while the Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a fine week ahead and predicting below-average rainfall for southern parts of SA during the May to July period in their latest seasonal outlook.
Pinnaroo cropper Corey Blacksell started sowing on April 22, saying they picked an ideal finish date and worked backwards to determine their starting date.
He described paddock conditions as very dry, with no rainfall of significance in the months leading up to seeding.
"There's almost zero soil moisture, it's about as low as it can get," Mr Blacksell said.
"I don't recall it being this dry very often, the rain we've had is absolutely minimal."
Mr Blacksell said he first dry sowed in 2016 and had success and had repeated it once since.
"I think it's about gaining confidence in the system and we're reasonably confident now that we can dry sow and the crops will be quite fine," he said.
"We're taking a punt (this year) and dry sowing canola because we know if we get a little seven or eight millimetre rain event we'll get the canola germinated and growing.
"If you put in post-rain it wouldn't come up, but pre the rain it will.
"Everyone's trying to get more out of their machinery these days because of the cost, so you're trying to marginalise the machinery costs by being able to sow earlier and be more timely."
Mr Blacksell said they would continue on canola and lentils this week, before potentially starting on wheat and barley this weekend.
He also said they were mindful of mice this year so were baiting while sowing canola as a preventative measure.
Keeping his eyes on the horizon and on the weather forecast is Grace Plains cropper Wayne Heaslip.
Mr Heaslip was working with son Jack and worker Alex O'Loan to carry out the final checks on seeding equipment late last week and expected to start sowing by the end of this week.
"If I can see a rain coming I'll probably put the canola in but if not I might sow some hay," he said.
The Heaslips are also set to grow wheat, durum, barley and lentils.
"We'll look to start on cereals in early May but the date will fluctuate depending on how the season starts," Mr Heaslip said.
"If there is rain forecast we'll try to get the canola in before the rain, then get into some wheat but if it stays dry we might get into some lentils first."
Mr Heaslip said paddock moisture levels were very dry and a "reasonable", not light opening was needed.
"If we could get 40 millimetres that would be ideal, but we'll work with whatever we get.
"I think the biggest rain event we've had in the past few months was only about 8 to 10mm."
On the Eyre Peninsula, Nutrien Tumby Bay agronomist Chris Pearce said he knew of a handful of growers that had started sowing already, but he expected quite a few more to at least make a start by the end of the week.
"There is mainly a bit of feed - vetch and cereal mixes - going in at this stage and a few have recently started on wheat," he said.
"Nobody has kicked off on canola just yet but that might happen by the end of the week."
Mr Pearce said the region near Tumby Bay was very dry, with no subsoil moisture.
"There's a few patches around Port Neill that scored 15 to 30mm but that was only in very isolated areas," he said.
"They're going to sow some feed and some cereals pretty soon up there.
"But other than that, we've had virtually no summer rain since November here so we've got very little moisture at depth and not a lot on top either."
Mr Pearce said he expected many growers to "get the wheels turning" soon and go along slowly until they got a significant weather front.
"Mice numbers are pretty low here so most growers are pretty confident they can start sowing without too many issues," he said.
"They'll go steady and hope that there's a bit of rain on the horizon."
Bureau of Meteorology climatologist Naomi Benger said rainfall was tracking at below-average totals in April for most of SA's agricultural regions, except for the Lower South East.
She said March rainfall was generally average, apart from some below-average areas on the southern Eyre Peninsula and Kangaroo Island, and above-average pockets on the northern Eyre Peninsula.
Ms Benger said there were no strong climate drivers or signals to indicate anything other than average rainfall in May and June, except for the potential of dry conditions in the South East.
The 2021 graingrowing season is also the first since the 16-year ban on growing genetically modified crops was lifted.
Primary Industries Minister David Basham said there had been significant interest in growing GM varieties, with more than 300 accreditations approved across the state.
"The strong interest in this first season shows a significant number farmers feel they could benefit from accessing GM technology," he said.
"While a number of growers may sow GM canola seed in the coming weeks, there will be many farmers interested in the first year's progress and we anticipate further uptake in 2022."
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