WET WEEKEND: Dairy farmer Rod Mclennan welcomed the rain but said a lot more is needed before he and his fellow farmers will start to fill positive.
WET WEEKEND: Dairy farmer Rod Mclennan welcomed the rain but said a lot more is needed before he and his fellow farmers will start to fill positive. Michael Nolan

What one wet weekend means for our farmers

THERE were tears of joy when more than 100mm of rain fell on parts of Southern Downs at the weekend but it was not enough to bring about a meaningful change to the crop-farming outlook.

Brutal drought conditions over summer drained the sub-soil of moisture the weekend's rain failed to replenish.

What is needed is follow-up rain over the next fortnight, which is a prospect few are banking on.

Glengallan dairy farmer Rod McLennan will take the punt and plant forage oats for his herd of Friesian and Illawarra dairy cows.

"We'll probably plant about 40ha sometime this coming week, if it does not rain again," he said.

Mr McLennan's farm got 100mm through the weekend and it is his first good fall since December.

"It is fantastic," he said.

"The country is starting to green up already.

"We were nervous about how much we'd get, but we are really happy with 100m."

Like most dairy farmers, Mr McLennan has to take every chance he gets to plant feed.

He has about 180 head of cattle at the dairy, which is down from about 240 in the good times.

Depending on how the oats go, he said he may look at rebuilding his herd.

"We'll stay at that level until we get some fodder put away," Mr McLennan said.

"We've got quite a few replacements coming on, we should be able to build up in 12-18 months if this drought breaks."

Few producers are as optimistic as Mr McLennan.

Tom Cooper runs sheep and feed crops at his Bony Mountain farm and is sceptical about planting, despite getting about 50mm.

"It is a bit unknown at the is stage, I haven't been down to see if the ground is wet enough," he said.

"I'd like to plant some oats for sure."

With no reliable rain in the lead-up the weekend storms, Mr Cooper's paddocks have sat idle.

"They have been too hard to work it, to prepare a seed bed and lay fertiliser," he said.

"I honestly cannot remember the last time we got that amount of rain, maybe last year sometime."

The countryside will bounce back and the average person will see a change in the environment but Mr Cooper said that would be just cosmetic.

"The rain has only wet the top six inches and there is no moisture in the subsoil," he said.

"We are a long way off that so all it will do is green the place up."

Both of these men are planting to supply their stock but those without hungry mouths to feed are much more cautious.

In a good season, Junabee grain farmer Andrew Free would plant wheat and barley and though he got more than 100mm of rain, it fell at the wrong time.

"It is too late for summer crops and too early for winter crops," he said.

"If you planted a winter cereal crop now it would be flowering as the the frost hit so you would only plant it for grazing.

"It is the perfect time to plant forage oats, all the dairy farmers can't afford not to."

Replacing the subsoil moisture is a must before farmers like Mr Free start tilling.

Without that moisture any planting would be a massive gamble and it is one many Southern Downs producers made last season.

"Even if the moisture is only a foot deep, some farmers will still pant in the hope they get rain in-crop, which is basically what we did in October," he said.

"It was a perfect time to plant a summer crop and we did get a little bit of rain in December and that got some crops through."

Mr Free's later summer crops have all but failed.

He has some corn and beans in the ground at the moment.

This bit of rain could be enough to pull them through but Mr Free is not convinced.

"These crops were on the verge of total collapse," he said.

"The rain might add a little volume, or if we bale them for hay, it might add a few tonnes to the yield.

"But the weathermen are not giving us much to pin our hopes on."