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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Rain, rain, come again: Grain growing ‘rollercoaster’ season continues with falls of 1mm to 96mm Statewide

WA grain farmers continue to ride a rollercoaster of a season with thunderstorms delivering “game changing” heavy rain as well as lightning and damaging winds in the past week.

The wildest weather was on Wednesday, September 13, when thunderstorms smashed power lines, uprooted trees and damaged homes in Perth and country WA.

But the Mid West and areas around Esperance widely missed out, receiving what many called “hand to mouth” falls of up to 10mm, with 9mm at Mingenew, 4mm at Canna, and 7mm at Binnu.

There were 180 calls for help in WA to the State Emergency Services on September 13, mostly for roof damage and trees across roads, with about 50 of those calls in regional WA.

More than 24,000 people lost power as trees took down power lines, closing roads including Forrest Highway at Myalup and South Western Highway near Donnybrook.

A healthy 22mm was recorded on September 13 at Badgingarra, where Barnes Hydraulics co-owner Catherine Barnes said farmers and businesses were rejoicing after a dry few months.

“It was a great storm, we don’t have a farm but my husband has a hydraulics business so all of our clients rely on the rain,” she said.

“We need the rain to keep the farmers happy … it has that flow-on effect.

“It was initially a worry how windy it was and there wasn’t much rain, but the rain settled in and stayed, and we got 20mm. So that was great.”

Summit Fertilizers North Midlands area manager Juliet McDonald said the past three years had been “pretty good” for WA farmers.

But she said farmers, particularly in the east of WA’s Mid West and Wheatbelt, had pulled back their programs during seeding after nearly no summer rainfall.

“Most people had a bit of kitty in the bank from last year,” she said. “So most people are trying to protect that rather than going into significant debt.

“Some farmers put in up to 40 per cent less crop than normal … and some didn’t put a crop in at all.”

Climate models indicate that below-normal rain is likely over the coming months for most of Australia, with lower rainfall predicted across southern WA with an El Nino alert in place.

The most consistent falls between September 11 and 18 were around Perth, Peel and the South West, with healthy falls near the coast including at Lancelin (43mm), Myalup (44mm), Vasse (85mm), Scott River (25mm) and Northcliffe (69mm).

The biggest rainfall totals were in the South West, with 95mm at Nannup, 97mm at Pemberton, and 96mm at Lawson Road, near Rosa Brook.

Along the south coast, 7mm was recorded at Cascade, 4mm at Salmon Gums and 3mm at Boyatup.

It depended which cloud you were standing under across the Wheatbelt and Great Southern, where falls of between 10 and 25mm fell from Latham in the north to Narrikup in the south.

Beacon farmer Craig Shipway said the 15mm that fell would be a game-changer at his property and help to fill grain heads after just 164mm for the year so far.

At Wubin, the 15mm that fell at Jenna Waterhouse’s property was the first double-figure rainfall total since June 5.

Dowerin resident Sam Williams used his Toyota Prado to hold down a trampoline that had earlier been seen flying through the streets.

Winds averaging 50 to 60km/h were also recorded, and Morawa recorded a gust of 109km/h at 12.37pm.

The variable season means WA grain farmers are expected to produce 60 per cent less grain and reel in a 16.96Mt harvest this year after a record 26Mt last year.

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