Historically dry start to year making it hard for SA farmers to stay positive

Historically dry start to year making it hard for SA farmers to stay positive

South Australian farmers say they are struggling to stay positive after a dry start to the year in some key agricultural regions.

It has been the eighth-driest April on record in the state and three dry months have pushed some growing areas into serious and severe rainfall deficiencies.

Bureau of Meteorology senior climatologist Jonathan Pollock said the past three months were the driest on record for parts of the Eyre Peninsula, Yorke Peninsula and Mid North.

It has been a dry start to 2024 for many areas. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)

“That’s the driest on record for that February to April period with data going all the way back to 1900,” Mr Pollock said.

“We did get some above-average rainfall back in January, but since then it’s been drier than average, and that looks set to continue in the short term.”

Since August, areas considered in rainfall deficiency have increased across parts of the state’s Upper and Lower South East, Kangaroo Island, Lower Eyre Peninsula, West Coast, Mid North and Flinders districts.

Hoping for the best is getting difficult

Evan Kakoschke farms just over 2,000 hectares outside of Sandilands on the Yorke Peninsula, where he grows wheat, barley and lentils and has a self-replacing merino flock.

“As a farmer I guess you are always optimistic looking to the future for the rain to come,” Mr Kakoschke said.

“But the longer it goes, you start to think some negative things, that the season might be a little bit ordinary, but the forecasting, that’s a bit of a hard one to follow.

“I reckon everyone’s optimism has slightly diminished from where it was a few months ago.”

Building farming resilience 

SA Drought Hub director Stephen Lee said the hub was working with farmers to build their resilience for dry times.

“We’ve had a series of projects that have helped with decision making, whether it’s around fodder for livestock or containment feeding, or on the grain side, dry feeding and decision making, that should aid in these kind of seasonal conditions,” Dr Lee said.

“Given the very long history of successful farming in SA and the very large variation we see in rainfall within and across years, we know farmers in SA have developed and evolved systems to best cope with climate variables.

“And we’re constantly working to further refine and develop practices that will help farmers continue to have greater resilience in the face of climate change and drought as well.”

Reduced hours while waiting for rain

Sally Zacher farms at Lock on the Eyre Peninsula and said they were doing what they could to get the paddocks ready for when the rain eventually came.

Sally Zacher has been dry sowing on her farm at Lock on the Eyre Peninsula.(Supplied: Sally Zacher)

They are about a third of the way through and she said despite some rain at the start of the year, it was very dry.

“There is a plume of dust that follows me, but it doesn’t hang around for very long,” she said.

Ms Zacher said for many, farming was very much a “nine to five” job at the moment.

“We had our first home game of football and netball on Saturday and we had a huge crowd, which we don’t usually have for the start of May,” she said.

“Generally this time of year we have no one around, but most people are just knocking off for the weekend and starting again on the Monday, because there is just no rain forecast.

“But most people’s idea is just get it in the ground … while there is still no rain around, it’s not going to grow, but it will rain when it rains.”

Farmers are concerned about how long dry conditions will be sticking around. 

Dry conditions expected to continue

Andre Eylward is a farm manager at Mudamuckla on the Far West Coast and said this year was on par with what they saw in 2010 when they didn’t have a season break until the end of May.

“That year didn’t turn out to be too bad, so hopefully it’s going to repeat itself,” he said.

“We had about 25mm of rain in January and another 10 in early March, but since then there had been nothing.

“But with such a big program we have to have some of it in dry because it just alleviates issues later on,” he said.

As well as being a dry month, it was also South Australia’s coldest April for more 30 years and the 10th-coldest since records began.

The bureau expects dry conditions to continue for the rest of May, with a 50/50 chance of above or below average rainfall for the agricultural areas in June.

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