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Dryness raises alarm over Western Australia crops

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Western Australia joined the list of major grain-producing areas where crops are under threat of dry weather, which has already killed some canola crops, even as rains refreshed many eastern areas of Australia.

Many growers in Western Australia, Australia's top arable state, have stopped their autumn sowing campaign because of the persistence of dry conditions which farm officials warned of three weeks ago, noting then that many areas had "very low levels of plant available water leading into winter".

The conditions, which Commonwealth Bank of Australia on Monday termed "unfavourably dry", have prevented seeds germinating in many areas, and in some others withered many crops which have sprouted.

"It is not really that good at all," Australia & New Zealand Bank analyst Paul Deane said.

"Emergence is pretty patchy. Crops are certainly not off to a good start."

Rapeseed setbacks

The problems are seen besetting in particular canola and malting barley varieties, which are earlier sown that wheat, and for which planting windows are ending.

"Wheat has still got plenty of time," Mr Deane told

With Western Australia the country's top canola-producing state - expected by industry experts to produce a 1.20m-tonne crop this year, 40% of the national harvest – the dryness represents the latest of a series of threats to world canola crops.

Prospects for rapeseed crops in the European Union, the world's biggest producer, have been hurt by frost, with cold weather raising questions over output in second-ranked Canada too.

Meteorologists at groups such as World Weather have suggested that frosts in the northern US plains and the Canadian Prairies late last week may have hurt newly-emerged seedlings.

Meanwhile, dryness is seen as a threat to, mainly grain, crops in parts of Russia, Ukraine and the southern US Plains.

Back to 2010?

However, Western Australian farmers may have only limited opportunity even to reseed lost canola area with wheat, given that some herbicide-resistant varieties of the oilseed are planted into soil treated with weedkillers such as atrazine.

"Wheat crops would be susceptible to this," Aaron Edmonds, who farms at Calingiri in Western Australia's central wheat belt, told

"Some legumes would be OK, but it is getting late to be sowing legumes too."

The conditions were reminding growers of 2010, when dryness cut Western Australian canola output by 31% to 711,000 tonnes, according to official data.

"Two years ago is what is in the back of everyone's minds, rather than the bumper result last year," Mr Edmonds said, reporting that some canola crops in the region were already lost.

"The 2010 season was more painful than the pleasure in last year's crop."

Rain on its way?

Many growers were putting faith in rains due on Thursday to boost their fortunes although, at 1mm-5mm, it was not expected to be "particularly generous".

"We are hoping they will end up higher than that, although even a small amount is better than just having temperatures of 25 degrees [Celsius]," Mr Edmonds said.

The comments came as farmers in eastern areas were celebrating rain which had boosted their crops, after spell up until now in May during which New South Wales and Queensland had received less than 20% of average rainfall.

Over the weekend, "the best rain, 25mm-50mm, fell from central northern New South Wales into Queensland, yet most regions received more than 10mm", Luke Mathews at Commonwealth Bank of Australia said.


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