Farmers in WA are holding off on sowing their canola crops. (ABC Rural: Jo Prendergast).


Dry weather in April and a poor long-term forecast has forced some farmers in Western Australia to delay planting their canola crops.

In West Arthur, farmer Neil Manuel has had the seeder loaded up with canola for the past two weeks, but without the rain he has not even been able to start.

A dry outlook is also causing uncertainty.

"I've struggled with the decision. I don't know if it's the right one or not," he said.

"But I just wanted to get a forecast with a bit more promise of rain."

Mr Manuel said if he did not get rain by June, as the forecast was predicting, he was going to have to abandon canola altogether — something he has never had to do before.

"To switch from canola to cereal will have a big impact. I haven't worked out the cost," he said.

"But it's more of a case for me that you get to a certain point and canola becomes unviable."


Concerned about outlook

Further north, Ross Lane has made similar management decisions.

He had planned to sow 800 hectares of canola on his farm between Wongan Hills and Kalannie, but he had held off.

"Generally we do canola first, but I'm a bit concerned about the outlook, putting canola in the ground," he said.

"So we thought we'd do a week on wheat and come back to the canola, just so we get a bit better feel for how the season will pan out before we commit to the canola."

He had about 140 millimetres of rain over summer, but none recently.


"We've got good moisture down 80 or 100 mil. That's obviously too deep to sow canola at the moment.

"We've sorta been in this situation before and have committed to it.

"Once you put that atrazine down, basically you're locked. We've done this a few times now and it works out pretty well for us."


Confidence remains strong east of Mullewa

Zac Grima and his family farm 35 kilometres east of Mullewa and have been seeding for a week.

He has sown lupins this year on the back of good summer rain.


Zac Grima is seeding his 2017 winter crop east of Mullewa, in Western Australia's northern agricultural region. (Supplied: Zac Grima).


"For February we had 200 millimetres of rain. It all didn't come at once. It was good rain, it all went in," he said.

"It meant we had a very busy summer spraying and controlling the green, but it's good because now there's plenty of subsoil moisture. The bucket is full down there."

Mr Grima said he was surprised at how close the moisture was to the surface.

"We think we are hitting it with probably 70 per cent of the crop, I think will come up on it," he said.


East Mullewa farmer Zac Grima shows the soil moisture in one of his paddocks during seeding. (Supplied: Zac Grima)


"Once it's up I'm quite confident it could go for a fair while. It's been two months now without a drop, and to see the ground still so wet, it's obviously a full profile.

"If we can just get it up I'm not panicking too much. I'd like to see rain of course, like everyone. If we can get it by the end of May we'll still be alright."

Mr Grima said the wet summer was bolstering confidence in the region.

"Without that I think there would be a few worried faces around," he said.


Flooded farmers now looking for rain

Just three months on from devastating floods hitting the Ravensthorpe region, farmers are now looking for more rain.

Local farmer Andy Chambers said despite receiving about 300mm for the year, clouds of dust surrounded his seeding rig as he pulled it through the paddock.

Flooding in February has caused massive erosion problems for farmers in the Ravensthorpe region, who are now having to fill gullies ahead of seeding. (ABC Rural: Tara De Landgrafft)


He said he was also having to do earthworks ahead of the seeding tractor to fill in gullies left behind by the flood.

"We've basically got one person on a machine in front of the seeders, doing it paddock by paddock, trying to knock down the gullies so we can work across them," he said.


"We'll probably have to end up getting a laser bucket or scraper in to fill them in sometime in the future."

But for now Mr Chambers said they would continue with their seeding program and hope for rain in the near future.

"Fifteen to 25 mils would be great," he said.

"There is a bit of moisture down there, like lupins and some of the beans have come up. They're a bit sparse but it shows what moisture was down there."


Eastern farmers pleased with season

In the state's easternmost farming district, farmers are relatively pleased with how the season has shaped up.

Adrian Perks farms between Condingup and Beaumont, near Esperance, and said it had been a great start to the season.

"Almost ideal after the big rains in February," he said.


Mr Perks said he was almost three quarters of the way through his seeding program, and while he wouldn't mind a little more rain, he was on track to finish around the time he does each season, with his neighbours not far behind.

"Usually around the first week of May to the middle of May seems to be when we finish give or take on the weather, but the weather's been good," he said.

"I reckon the next two weeks will see a lot of farmers getting pretty close to seeing the end of their seeding programs or not far from it."


Sheep sales surge during dry

The manager of a major West Australian sheep saleyard says numbers have surged recently due to dry conditions and a lack of feed for livestock.

Katanning Saleyards manager Rod Bushell said numbers have been steadily increasing as farmers have been forced to offload stock due to a lack of rainfall.

The Wednesday sale saw a record 32,000 sheep pass through the yards, the largest sale since the yards were rebuilt in 2014.

Mr Bushell said there were thousands more sheep than usual this week


"We've had 25,000 plus some a few times, but never over 30,000."

Mr Bushell said despite strong prices for sheep meat, most producers would have preferred to hold onto stock and sell later in the season.

But he said the weather conditions had forced them to sell off early.

"I think a lot of them wouldn't be sending them in if they had a choice," he said.

"Because the meat and wool price is so strong [most people] would want to hang onto more sheep, it's just a pity that the feed's dropped away."

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