AgMemo Northern Agricultural Region

Bigger department benefits agriculture

Mark Webb, Ralph Addis, Mark Sweetingham
Mark Webb, Ralph Addis, Mark Sweetingham

Western Australia’s agriculture and food sector is set to benefit from the State Government’s decision to amalgamate key agencies working to support our primary industries and regions.

From 1 July, the departments of Agriculture and Food; Fisheries; and Regional Development are joining with the staff of the nine Regional Development Commissions to form the new Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD).

These major structural changes are happening across the public sector to create more collaborative departments focused on whole-of-government objectives to deliver services in a more efficient and effective way.

Ralph Addis has taken on the role of acting Director General of DPIRD to help us build an organisation we can all be proud of, and achieve more together than we can as individual agencies.

Ralph was the Director General of the Department of Regional Development. He hails from a family farm near Cranbrook and has a first-hand appreciation of the challenges of modern agribusinesses.

DAFWA’s former acting Director General Mark Webb is moving on to lead the new Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions. Mark has made a major contribution to the department and the sector over the past 14 months.

While our new combined department officially starts operating from 1 July, with all staff brought under the one banner, the full transition of functions and services will take some time longer.

A project management team, including representatives from DAFWA, has been established to guide this transition.

Mark Sweetingham have been appointed as DPIRD’s Deputy Director General for Agriculture and will help navigate this latest evolution of the department.

Given Mark's previous role as Executive Director of Grains Research and Development Transformation, he is well aware of the pressures and opportunities facing the WA agriculture and food sector and is committed to ensuring we are well equipped to take our sector forward.

Mark has expressed his excitement about the future of agriculture and the synergies and opportunities to be generated by working together in a bigger more collaborative department.

During this transition process it is ‘business as usual’ for the agriculture and food staff, who continue to work with the expertise and passion for which they are renowned.

Our valued partnerships remain strong and our research and development activities will stay on track with universities, grower groups and organisations, such as the Grains Research and Development Corporation.  

The Department of Agriculture and Food has had many incarnations over the past 124 years, to enable it to support the continued development of agriculture and food in Western Australia to the sophisticated, modern agribusinesses that we have today.

This is yet another chapter in that proud history, which will enable us to tap into the skills and resources of other aligned departments and pursue significant activities that advance the capability and prosperity of the sector.

We invite all stakeholders to join us along this journey and to keep the lines of communication open so we can build an innovative, relevant and robust department that will meet the needs of the agriculture and food sector for generations to come.

For more information on the department amalgamation visit our homepage

Department helps agricultural businesses to navigate 2017 season

Rainfall to date as a percentage of median from the 1st April to 13th June 2017
Rainfall to date as a percentage of median from the 1st April to 13th June 2017 

Department officers throughout the grainbelt and adjacent areas are working to support agricultural businesses affected by below average rainfall.

While good levels of stored summer soil moisture has been topped up by autumn rains on the south coast and parts of the Great Southern, areas in the northern and north-eastern agricultural area and the lower Great Southern are experiencing well below average rainfall.

The department’s Statistical Seasonal Forecasting (SSF) system's June seasonal outlook predicts below average rainfall for the majority of the South West Land Division for winter and spring.

The SSF indicates a 0-40% chance of exceeding median rainfall from June to August for the majority of the grainbelt, in the decile 2-3 range, based on a poor to good predictive skill, with the exception of Ravensthorpe and the western part of the Esperance Shire, which has a higher chance of 40-60% of exceeding average rainfall, in the likely 4-7 decile range.

The longer term outlook for June to October is also for a 0-40% chance of exceeding median rainfall, in the 2-3 decile range, across the majority of the South West Land Division, based on a 50-75% consistent predictive skill.

Department officers from across the grainbelt are liaising with local grower groups, consultants and farming organisations to ensure agribusinesses receive the support they require.

A Season 2017 webpage is available on the department’s website that harnesses a vast range of information to assist landholders to navigate the season ahead.

It includes useful information on crop agronomy, livestock management, farm budgeting and health and financial information.

Climate and weather tools

The department’s website has several climate and weather tools to assist decision making, including:


The below average rainfall conditions have already had an impact on cropping programs and many grain growers are modifying their plans to optimise crop potential.

The department has undertaken modelling to identify likely impact from delayed emergence of from wheat and canola crops so growers can evaluate whether other options need to be considered for these paddocks.

There has also been research on the value of reseeding canola crops.

In addition work has been done on breakeven yeilds for wheat and canola.


The department has been monitoring the situation to assist livestock producers to make informed decisions about feed budgeting, stocking rates and opportunities to capitalise on solid market conditions.

Livestock feeding has been a priority, with Pastures from Space observations showing low amounts of Food on Offer (FOO), across much of the grain belt.

Many livestock producers have already commenced supplementary feeding and feed budgeting will be essential if dry conditions persist in coming months.

The department has a number of tools and calculators to assist sheep grazing management.

Department officers report livestock across the regions are currently in good condition.

Support Services

It seems likely that 2017 will be a variable season for much of the grainbelt.

Good communication and social support will be essential to help each other through the months ahead.

Services are available to assist people through this difficult period:

The Season 2017 webpage will be updated with relevant, useful information as the season progresses.

Managing wind erosion risk on sandy soils in a dry season

Clay being spread at a low rate onto sand at Badgingarra, soil was left bare following a fire.
Clay being spread at a low rate onto sand at Badgingarra, soil was left bare following a fire.

With the dry start to the season in many areas crop establishment has been slow, variable or, unfortunately, non-existent.

Those soils most affected by poor establishment are water repellent sands and pale sands with low clay content.

Repellent sands typically have variable wetting and it can take considerable rain over time for them to slowly wet up, and the pale sands have poor water holding and the topsoil can dry out quickly, especially when disturbed by seeding or other tillage operations.

These dry sandy soils are at high risk of wind erosion when there is minimal stubble cover from last season.

Wind erosion can result in:

  • a loss of topsoil and associated nutrients
  • make paddocks uneven
  • bury or damage infrastructure such as fences or farm tracks
  • can result in sandblasting of crop seedlings or emerging crops
  • can result in blowouts.

Blowouts are one of the most serious consequences of wind erosion and these areas can cause long-term problems in future seasons.

Options for minimising wind erosion risk can be limited when there has been insufficient rain to adequately wet the topsoil for germination and plant establishment.

Avoid driving or having livestock on sandy, high risk soils

Sands that do not have good stubble cover can still form an ‘armouring layer’ at the soil surface, which acts as weak soil crust and consists of larger sand grains that may be partially interlocked and weakly cemented with each other.

This layer can resist wind erosion provided it is not disturbed.

Disturbance can break up the surface soil allowing sand grains to start blowing across the soil surface which dislodges further sand grains, starting the erosion process (saltation).

Bare sandy areas on exposed hill tops or hill sides can be particularly vulnerable.

Establishing a cover crop

Where sown crop seed is still viable avoiding traffic on sandy areas and waiting for crops to establish when rains come is an option.

In some cases however seed may have germinated but failed. In these cases seeding a cereal cover crop on bare areas after rain may be necessary not only to get immediate cover but also to generate some dry matter to protect the soil over summer.

Where a break crop has failed pre-emergent herbicides may prevent seeding of a cereal.

In these cases and for smaller areas it may be necessary to allow weeds to germinate and grow and cover the soil and then sprayed out before they set seed.

Spreading subsoil

One of the most effective but also a more expensive option is to spread clay-rich subsoil or gravel or gravelly loam using a heavy duty multi-spreader.

The subsoil needs a clay content of 30% or more.

Rates of 50-75 tonne per hectare are often adequate to prevent erosion but rates of 75-120 t/ha or more may have lasting benefits to reduce topsoil water repellence, depending on the quality of the subsoil used.

At these rates there is still minimal need for deep incorporation of the clay leading into next season and the action of the seeder or a scarifier would likely be adequate.

Spreading the material through a multi-spreader is the ideal option for evenness of spread and cover and speed but other more intensive approaches could be used for smaller areas.

At the lighter rates of clay it would still be important not to traffic the soil too much – until it is wet and a cover crop can be seeded.

This approach is expensive but may still be helpful to target or prevent patches at risk of blow-out which could be an ongoing problem for many years to come and difficult (and very expensive) to rehabilitate.


When protecting sands from wind erosion it will often be necessary to prioritise areas.

Identify and target bare sands that are exposed and at risk of becoming a blowout.

Where options are limited avoid disturbing the soil surface and monitor the site after strong wind events.

For more information contact Steve Davies, Research Officer, Geraldton on +61 (0)8 9956 8515.

Condition score sheep flock crucial for 2017 season

A sheep
Sheep producers have been urged to condition score their flock to ensure the wellbeing of their flock, especially in areas with below average seasonal rainfall.

Sheep producers are being urged to monitor the condition score of their sheep and review supplementary feed needs in line with seasonal conditions.

Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA) Veterinary Officer Danny Roberts said Condition scoring, by handling sheep, provided a good estimation of the nutritional wellbeing of the sheep by assessing the muscle and fat covering its backbone.

It is important to ensure individual sheep within the flock were above condition score 2.

There will be animals that vary within the flock so it is best to aim for an average condition score of 2.5 to ensure the ewes remain productive at mating.

Many producers in areas that have received below average rainfall are supplementary feeding sheep, as the animals’ energy intake from pastures is limited and the amount of food on offer continues to decline.

Weaning 10 to 12 weeks after the start of lambing would reduce the nutritional demand on the ewes and allow both the ewe and the lamb to be given sufficient feed more efficiently.

Weaned lambs will require sufficient energy to grow at 50 grams per day or 1.5 kilograms per month but the supplement needs to be at least 12% crude protein to ensure high survival rates.

Producers should be continually reviewing their feed budget as the season progressed to determine the amount of supplementary feeding required.

It is more cost effective to maintain the condition score of sheep at 2.5 than to lose it and try to regain it again before the next summer.

Producers should also consider future stocking rates and opportunities to capitalise on solid market conditions, should dry conditions prevail.

More information can be found at the DAFWA website

For more information contact Dr Danny Roberts, Veterinary Officer, Albany on +61 (0)8 9892 8535.

New development officers to build capacity in grains research and development

The new Regional Research Agronomy project team
The new Regional Research Agronomy project teamLeft to right: Edwina Cockburn, Jolie Delroy (Esperance); Kylie Chambers, Jenni Clausen (Merredin); Emma Clarke (Albany); Bec Swift, Stacey Hansch (Northam); Alice Butler (Albany); Adrian Rossi and Bonnie Jupp (Geraldton)

The Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA) now has on board a team of development officers to enhance the delivery of localised research and development for the Western Australian grains industry.

The appointments have resulted from the ‘Building crop protection and agronomy capacity in the Western Region’ project made possible by significant investment from DAFWA, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and Royalties for Regions’ Boosting Grains Research and Development project. The abbreviated title of the project is “Regional Research Agronomy’’.

The team consists of a crop production research agronomist and a crop protection research agronomist within each of the five Western Australian port zones, located at DAFWA’s regional offices of Geraldton, Merredin, Northam, Albany and Esperance.

Project Manager Vanessa Stewart said the Regional Research Agronomy project represents an interface between research and delivery and is designed to ensure that research and development outcomes hit the ground and result in improved farm profitability.

It will also play an important role in identifying emerging priority issues or regional gaps in existing research programs.

The officers are early entrants to the agriculture industry and this investment is also important in developing their capacity, providing a broad foundation for the next generation of grains industry professionals who will have the ability to innovate and create a progressive and dynamic sector able to meet future challenges.

The new crop protection and crop production officers at Geraldton are:

Bonnie Jupp  Crop protection +61 (0)8 9956 8528 or email.
Adrian Rossi Crop production +61 (0)8 9956 8527 or email.

The officers in each port zone will work closely with a range of industry support networks including the Regional Cropping Solutions Networks (RCSN), grower groups, agribusiness and other research providers to identify, facilitate, support and/or deliver activities aligned to key industry challenges and opportunities in their regions.
For more information contact Vanessa Stewart, Development Officer, Merredin, +61 (0)8 9081 3149.

Ensure livestock are fit for the journey

A cow with ingrowing horns
DAFWA inspectors have noticed an increased prevalence of ingrown horns during inspections at saleyards and abattoirs over the past few months.

The Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA) is cautioning livestock agents, buyers and producers to ensure livestock being prepared for transport are fit to load.

Inspectors of the DAFWA Livestock Compliance Unit have recently dealt with incidents involving the transport of heavily pregnant animals, and an increase in the number of cattle and sheep arriving at saleyards with ingrown horns.

In these instances livestock are not fit to load.

Transporting animals in the late stages of pregnancy or recently born animals, where there is a risk of harm to the animal, is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2002.

Not knowing the animal was pregnant is not a defence. Agents, buyers and producers should be aware of the risk, and check each animal prior to transport.

Animals presented with an ingrown horn should also not be transported until they have had the horn trimmed and have recovered from any injuries as transporting animals in this condition could cause further suffering.

Ultimately, if there is any doubt about the condition of animals, they should not be accepted for transport.

DAFWA inspectors have noticed an increased prevalence of ingrown horns during inspections at saleyards and abattoirs over the past few months.

Trimming the horns of cattle and sheep should be standard practice, particularly in animals where there is a risk of the horn becoming ingrown. Trimming is a straight-forward procedure. If left untreated, the horns could eventually penetrate the animal’s skull.

If the horn has penetrated the skull, it should be trimmed in accordance with the advice of a veterinarian, or the animal should be humanely euthanised.

Failing to trim the horn is a possible offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2002 and carries significant penalties.

Animal welfare codes of practice in WA have been prepared to assist producers to make decisions on issues such as transporting pregnant livestock, and how to trim horns without cutting into sensitive horn tissue.

The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Cattle and the Code of Practice for Sheep in Western Australia: Sheep can be downloaded from DAFWA’s website.

DAFWA is committed to providing leadership and improving animal welfare outcomes in WA.

The department administers the Animal Welfare Act, and ongoing monitoring and raising awareness of animal welfare legislation and standards is critical to achieving improved compliance with the Act.

Inspectors of the Livestock Compliance Unit play a vital role. At saleyards and other places where animals are brought together, inspectors carry out inspections and liaise with industry to educate and advise on animal welfare.

Inspectors can issue Direction Notices to keep any livestock unfit for transport at the saleyard for a specified period, which may mean agistment fees for the owner.

Inspectors may also initiate prosecutions for non-compliance.

Additional information about the Animal Welfare is available on the DAFWA website.

For more information contact Jodie Gysen, Client Engagement Leader, South Perth on +61 (0)8 9368 3194. 

Take your PIC…and renew on time

Sheep being loaded onto a truck
To avoid delays, owners of livestock must ensure that they are registered and that their PIC and stock brand are active, especially before sending stock off property.

Livestock producers are reminded to make sure their stock brand and property identification code (PIC) registration is up to date to avoid delays at saleyards and processors.

Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA) Registrar of Stock and Apiaries reminds producers to renew their brand on time to avoid being automatically deregistered.

Without registration producers are unable to sell or move stock legally.

Recently, several consignments of stock have been delivered to saleyards and abattoirs where the brand and PIC had expired.

These stock cannot be moved or sold until the brand is renewed, creating considerable delay and inconvenience for both the owner and the saleyard or processor.

The DAFWA Brands office currently mails renewal notices to all registered producers five weeks before the registration expiry date.

From 1 July, producers will be given eight weeks notification.

In 2016, the Brands office processed 6808 registration documents, including new registrations, re-registrations, transfers, cancellations and property detail amendments.

An additional 6433 renewal notices were issued.

Almost half of these renewals had to be issued a second notice as registered owners failed to pay the renewal fee before the PIC expiry date.

This equates to 50% of the year’s PIC renewals with a potential ‘urgent’ need for processing.

This creates processing bottlenecks and subsequent problems with consignments from expired PICs arriving at the saleyard or processor.

To ensure they receive their renewal notice, PIC owners are reminded to update their postal details within seven days of any change of address as is required by the legislation.

Re-registrations can be returned by post or email.

Every PIC is published on the National PIC Register and is used by the Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) program to accredit producers to use the commercially required suite of National Vendor Declarations (NVDs).

If a producer hasn’t paid their livestock owner registration renewal fee on time, their PIC will be deregistered, with both the department and LPA.

This means they can’t use an NVD and the PIC won’t be recognised by saleyard and abattoir operators.

Upon renewal, the producer is required to contact LPA and request their PIC be reinstated on the accredited list.

The LPA NVD waybill is an industry-driven initiative to assure Australia’s domestic and export markets of the safety of Australian beef, lamb and goat meat.

PIC owners are urged to be patient as the re-registration process is not instantaneous.

To check the expiry date of a PIC or update details, producers can enter the code in the Brands - Property identification code enquiry page.

Adding or removing a property to a registration at any time is free of charge.

To check LPA accreditation contact 1800 683 111 or go to Livestock Production Assurance to plug in your PIC.

Other useful pages if the DAFWA website include:

For more information contact Beth Green, NLIS Operations Manager, Bunbury on +61 (0)8 9753 0302.

Weather data strengthened across wheatbelt

Access the most up-to-date weather by visiting the DAFWA weather website

Wheatbelt growers and industry representatives were joined by Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan for the official opening of the Doppler weather radar site at Watheroo, north-east of Moora.

The State Government’s investment in the suite of Doppler radar towers (Newdegate, South Doodlakine and Watheroo) to improve regional weather information, complement the Bureau of Meteorology's (BoM) radar network to provide farmers and regional residents localised, real-time rainfall and wind events.

Technology is integral to ensuring Western Australia’s agricultural sector remains internationally competitive and Doppler radars will help to increase agricultural productivity and better enable farm business decision making.

Combining Doppler radar data with data from the department's network of more than 175 weather stations (129 across the grainbelt) provides vital information to boost the performance of farm business operations.

Using the data generated by the radars, farm businesses will be able to save time and money to support farm management decisions such as time of sowing and fertiliser and chemical applications.

Real-time rainfall and wind information from the Doppler radars are updated every six minutes on the department and BoM websites. This data can be 'pin-pointed' to a one-kilometre resolution, giving farmers a 'paddock perspective' of real-time and estimated accumulated rainfall.

Agriculture and Food Minister the Hon Alannah MacTiernan with DAFWA Grains and Livestock Industries Executive Director Peter Metcalfe (left) and Grahame Reader, A/WA Regional Director, Bureau of Meteorology (right)
Agriculture and Food Minister the Hon Alannah MacTiernan with DAFWA Grains and Livestock Industries Executive Director Peter Metcalfe (left) and Grahame Reader, A/WA Regional Director, Bureau of Meteorology (right)

Data from the newly installed radars will feed into online decision support tools (eg. Soil water tool, Rainfall to date) to support growers to make more informed decisions throughout the season to maximise opportunities and minimise risks.

To complement this expanded weather radar coverage across the grainbelt, existing BoM weather radars at Geraldton, Esperance and Albany are all being upgraded to Doppler capability.

The State Government is funding Geraldton and Albany based radars, and Esperance will be funded by the Bureau. The upgrade of these coastal weather radars are planned for completion by April 2019.

Once the coastal radar upgrade is complete the Western Australian wheatbelt will have the most comprehensive weather network in the southern hemisphere.

To access more precise weather information, visit the Department weather site and click on the ‘Rain radar’ tab.

AgMemo set to change

In a bid to improve the way we deliver messages to subscribers AgMemo will be changing its focus from region to industry.

AgMemo is evolving to an industry focussed state-wide publication that provides essential, timely and relevant information to assist you in managing and developing your business.

Since its initiation, AgMemo has regularly delivered bi-monthly editions specific to five agricultural regions throughout Western Australia (Southern, South West, Central, Northern and Rangelands).

In a bid to improve the way we deliver messages to subscribers we will be changing the focus from region to industry.

The main body of the newsletter will promote our department’s achievements and projects and provide timely messages that are relevant to the majority of subscribers.

Readers can then select their relevant industry (grains, livestock or horticulture) for targeted articles providing a mix of timely strategic and tactical information, issues and news.

Another exciting new feature will be a regular section listing upcoming industry funding, scholarships and events.

The newsletter will continue to be published every two months as an e-newsletter sent directly to your inbox.

The next edition you receive will be published in the new format.

The AgMemo team welcome feedback and ideas from subscribers highlighting current issues and topics that they would like to see published in the newsletter.