Southern Brook farmers Dennis and Kathy Saunders on their crops after a recent rain fall. Photo by Matt Jelonek/The West Australian.

“Like it was 40 years ago” - wetter than usual start to 2021 welcomed by WA growers

Main Image: Southern Brook farmers Dennis and Kathy Saunders on their crops after a recent rain fall. Photo by Matt Jelonek/The West Australian. Credit: Matt Jelonek

Email Shannon Verhagen

Paddocks across WA were yet again awash with puddles as this year’s deluge of summer rain continued over the weekend, bolstering hopes farmers can leave the past three dry seasons in the rear-view mirror.

Farmers finished or midway through seeding were rapt as much of the grainbelt tipped 20-30mm out after Saturday and Sunday’s showers, with some getting almost triple those figures.

For Southern Brook farmers Dennis and Kathy Saunders — who crop wheat, barley, canola and lupins on 1400ha 25km north-east of Northam — it is reminiscent of times 30 to 40 years ago when it “used to be the norm”.

After the weekend’s 33mm, their total for the year is sitting pretty at 277mm, almost 100mm more than they got for the whole of 2020.

It has brought a smile to their faces and “taken some of the pressure off” after three years dry-seeding and a dry 2020 saw their yields drop to half of what they got in 2019.

It’s been fantastic. Everyone’s upbeat and relaxed. Last year our annual rainfall was 188mm and most of that was summer rain. We had 60mm in February.

Cathy Saunders

“We’re extremely pleased,” Mr Saunders said.

“There’s moisture in the ground which is quite unusual and all the crops are up and away as it’s still quite warm out there.

“Normally we’re digging around looking for the seed,” Mrs Saunders laughed.

The ground was so wet in fact, that they have decided to invest in a snatch strap after they had to borrow a neighbour’s one and call in their nephew to help pull them out of a bog.

Southern Brook farmers Dennis and Kathy Saunders on their crops after a recent rain fall. Photo by Matt Jelonek/The West Australian.
Camera IconSouthern Brook farmers Dennis and Kathy Saunders on their crops after a recent rain fall. Photo by Matt Jelonek/The West Australian. Credit: Matt Jelonek

The pair have always had a passion for agriculture, with Mrs Saunders growing up on a mixed enterprise west of Wongan Hills and Mr Saunders’ family purchasing their home farm “Seldom Seen” back in the 1950s.

Mrs Saunders spent more than three decades as a biosecurity officer travelling the State, where she met her future husband in the late 1990s. Their love blossomed at the local tennis court, where they still play today.

She made the decision to work on the farm full-time in 2016, when they purchased their third block of land.

After destocking their commercial flock of 1200 Merinos a few years back, the couple now trade in wether lambs, which they buy in December, run them on the stubbles and sell them in April.

Southern Brook farmers Dennis and Kathy Saunders on their crops after a recent rain fall. Photo by Matt Jelonek/The West Australian.
Camera IconSouthern Brook farmers Dennis and Kathy Saunders on their crops after a recent rain fall. Photo by Matt Jelonek/The West Australian. Credit: Matt Jelonek

It is a move Mr Saunders credits with giving their land a break and returning to its full potential.

“The country’s improved,” he said. “The sheep used to compact the ground and it would take two years to get a decent yield out of it after.

“It’s been fantastic for the farm and things have really picked up.

“We’ve got better weed management now and we’ve got a pretty good rotation.”

And with this year’s falls, they are optimistic for the season ahead.

“Everyone’s upbeat and relaxed,” Mrs Saunders said.

It feels like the air’s been cleaned and freshened. It just looks lovely.

Cathy Saunders
Seeding in the rain in Beacon.
Camera IconSeeding in the rain in Beacon. Credit: Craig Shipway

The weather system continued further inland, delivering a welcome follow-up drop after ex-tropical cyclone Seroja’s offerings in April.

The 38.5mm Beacon farmer Craig Shipway received brought his total up to 297mm.

Due to wrap-up seeding this week, he said it had been the best start he had seen in about eight years, after missing out on summer rain in 2019 and 2017 delivering “one of the worst years Beacon’s ever had”.

It’s bloody lovely — there’s not much to be sad about at the moment.

Craig Shipway

“In 2020 we got 197mm for the year and most of that was during harvest — we got bugger all during growing season.

“It makes all the hard slogs in the last few years worthwhile.”