Driest autumn in eight years


FARMERS in WA’s Mid-West are praying for rain after the driest autumn in eight years has left many fields parched.

Perth recorded its driest autumn since 2009 with just 94.4mm of rain from March to May – almost half the average autumn rainfall of 180.8mm.

And it was even drier in the northern Wheatbelt, with autumn rainfall more than 50 per cent below average in Geraldton, Mullewa, Morawa, Binnu, Northampton and other farming communities in the state’s Mid-West.

media_cameraYork farmer Duncan Young with dog Diesel on his property near the town. Picture: Justin Benson-Cooper

Mullewa, 460km north of Perth, was one of the hardest hit, with only 11mm rain during autumn – just 13 per cent of its 85mm average, according to the weather bureau.

WA Farmers grains council president Duncan Young said parts of the northern Wheatbelt were “very dry”.

“While some of those areas have subsoil moisture from summertime, they haven’t had a lot of winter rain. It’s not at crisis point, but the summer rain got a lot of people’s hopes up and some people would desperately like some rain fairly soon,” Mr Young said.

Among those praying for rain is Northampton farmer Des Stanich, 54, and his sons Tristan and Joel, who are growing wheat and canola on their 3000ha farm north of Geraldton.

“We had good summer rain but we only had 20mm for all of May. All of our crop is in the ground, they’re emerging but they’re not liking the dry too much, and a bit of rain would be nice,” he said.

“Last year our canola was already flowering at this time but this year our canola is only emerging. It is vastly different. Hopefully when winter comes proper, we’ll get some good rain.”

For Mr Young, who runs a 2500ha property near York, 100km east of Perth, growing wheat, barley, oats and lupins, rain would “also be nice – though we’re certainly not as critical as a lot of other people”.

Despite the big dry in parts of the northern Wheatbelt, growers elsewhere were in a good position, Mr Young said.

“It’s a big state and at the moment it’s pretty varied. To the south, Esperance and Ravensthorpe are quite wet,” he said.

The weather bureau is predicting a drier and warmer than average winter, which started this week.

Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Neil Bennett said WA was in the grip of a “blocking pattern” that was stopping rain, with high pressure dominating the weather map and hampering approaching cold fronts.

“The fronts are either quite weak, or we’re not getting them at all,” Mr Bennett said.

“Last season farmers had much wetter conditions but this season it’s more typical of the drying trend we’ve been seeing in recent decades.”

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