Rain breathes life into struggling Mallee crops

Rain breathes life into struggling Mallee crops

Cropping
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Good rains in the Mallee this week have improved one of the worst-ever starts to the season.

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Taplan cropper Clinton Scholz in his Compass barley on Monday, which was looking pretty limp before the much-needed 24mm of rain he received this past week

Taplan cropper Clinton Scholz in his Compass barley on Monday, which was looking pretty limp before the much-needed 24mm of rain he received this past week

MALLEE croppers are resting a little easier this week, after good rains improved one of the worst-ever starts to the season.

Rainfall tallies ranged from 25 millimetres at Alawoona, to 19mm at Paruna and 15mm in Renmark - double-figure events not often seen this year.

Pinion Advisory consulting agronomist Richard Saunders, Loxton, said the season start in the region was one of the worst on record.

"There have been only two years (1901 and 1902) out of the past 120 with a lower rainfall for the first six months, and those seasons ended decile 1 and lower," he said.

"We had 45mm to the end of June, and now we've had another 20mm - so our croppers are closer to that decile 1 now, but we are tracking really low, so we still need another inch a month to get at least an average year."

Mr Saunders said one of the hardest hit areas had been north of Paringa.

"They only had 25mm for the first six months of the year, so some croppers didn't even get the seeder out of the shed, while others have also reduced their cropping programs," he said.

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Mr Saunders said crops had recovered surprisingly well with the rain.

"Two weeks ago, crops were going backwards very quickly and in just a matter of days, they look completely different," he said.

"But there still isn't a lot of subsoil moisture, particularly on the harder ground, so we will need follow-up rain."

The delay to flowering is also of concern.

"The timing of the frosts will also affect yield potential, but if it also heats up too quickly, crops will quickly try to finish and yields then also reduce, particularly if there's not enough subsoil moisture," he said.

"A shortened season also means everything is packed in and farmers will have to go hell for leather on getting their nitrogen on, their weeds under control and fungicides out, especially if it keeps raining."

Mr Saunders said the rain isn't quite "the saviour of the season", but it had certainly lifted the mood of Mallee farmers.

Pressure eased with double-figure falls

At Taplan in the far east of the Mallee, cropper Clinton Scholz had been wondering whether he would even get his seed back, after not receiving a significant rain event this season.

"Before these rains, we were still waiting on a break," he said.

"We hadn't had a double-figure rain amount since February. We got 5mm at the end of May, which germinated our dry-sown crops, but nothing since.

"Our crops were looking very limp and we were starting to get a little worried about groundcover, as we have some vulnerable country.

"But we have now had 24mm at Taplan this past week and it's all good again."

The total takes the Scholz property to 79mm for the year to-date at Taplan, while another property at Meribah was about 20mm behind that.

"They didn't have the early rains in January/February, so it's a little tougher there," he said.

"But across the board, there is very little subsoil moisture.

"We also had some big crops last year that would have taken most of the moisture out - we will definitely need more rain."

Mr Scholz put in 1700 hectares of crop this year, mainly wheat, barley, peas and vetch.

"This rain has certainly lifted our potential and given us a bit of optimism, we could get average yields yet if there is a reasonable spring," he said.

Wet winter weather likely to linger longer

Good news is, the wet weather is expected to remain a little longer, says Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Simon Timcke, who forecast more showers this coming week.

"There is a low pressure system moving across the south of the state today, which will bring areas of rain ahead of it, wind and even snow in the high peaks of the Mid North and Flinders regions," he said.

"That system will contract eastwards during the day to Friday morning, after which we expect there will be a severe weather warning out for the weekend.

"Over the weekend, we expect to see weather similar to last weekend, with a few vigorous fronts moving across the south of the state, bringing showers, thunderstorms, small hail and windy conditions, which should ease by Sunday.

"We expect to see maybe 10-20mm in the northern agricultural area; 20-30mm over the ranges, Mid North and southern Flinders district; and then 30-60mm in the Mount Lofty Ranges starting from south of Clare.

"Further to the east, some rain should get across there, possibly 10-20mm with a bit of luck."

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