Watching brief continues for Season 2020

Figure 1. SSF forecast of the probability of exceeding median rainfall for autumn March to May 2020 using data up to and including February. Indicating a mixed outlook for the Southwest Land Division.
A mixed autumn outlook is forecast for the Southwest Land Division

Widespread, yet variable rainfall across the State has brought relief to some and frustration to others in both the pastoral and the agricultural regions.

In January and February, tropical cyclones Blake and Damien delivered significant and welcome rainfall to large parts of the rangelands, alleviating pressure on stock water in many areas. Western parts of the Pilbara, Gascoyne and Murchison and parts of the southern rangelands were not so fortunate.

Sustained isolated thunderstorms during late February brought rain across some parts of the agricultural region, with falls of 50 mm or more reported in many locations over the Great Southern and South Coast. In many locations, this was not enough to boost pre-seeding soil moisture levels or fill dams for livestock water.

DPIRD continues to maintain a watching brief in the north and the south and remains ready to respond to emerging issues.

The department’s Season 2020 webpage provides a one-stop-shop of updated, essential information to assist farmers and pastoralists address seasonal challenges, including a Support Services Directory of financial, water and counselling contacts.


Access to water for livestock purposes remains a priority for many areas of the south east and Great Southern, with a record 10 Water Deficiency Declarations in place across the south east and Great Southern.

DPIRD is working closely with the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER), the Water Corporation and local governments to monitor on-farm water storage and requirements.

DWER is liaising with farmers in areas declared water deficient to determine any changes to livestock numbers and water carting needs following recent rainfall.

Water being carted from Water Deficiency Declared areas is strictly for emergency livestock and local firefighting, if required. This water should not be accessed for any other purposes.

In the light of continuing water shortages and the need to conserve water, farmers who are carting livestock water are encouraged to cart to closed storages or tanks, rather than dams where water losses are high through evaporation.

Season 2020

The department’s Statistical Seasonal Forecast outlook for March to May indicates a less than 40 per cent probability of above median rainfall in the northern agricultural region and greater than 70 per cent chance for southern parts of the agricultural region, based on a poor to good predictive skill level.

The most probable rainfall decile map indicates decile 2-3 for parts of the Central West and Central grainbelt and decile 8-10 for parts of the Great Southern, South Coastal and South East Coastal areas.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s current seasonal outlook indicates 45-75 per cent chance of exceeding median rainfall for autumn, with a poor to good predictive skill.


Livestock management and feed budgeting remains a challenge, with low feed and dam levels – despite recent rainfall.

The Season 2020 webpage has recently been updated with a detailed article on ‘Making good sheep management decisions – summer and autumn’ with timely advice on feed budgeting, nutrition, water quality, pregnancy scanning and flock and herd management.

There is also a link to a report by respected consultant John Young titled ‘Breeding ewes are worth feeding’, which shows supplementary feeding is profitable and improving ewe survival improves overall flock profitability.

The loss of a Merino ewe pregnant with twin Merino lambs is worth up to $280, while the loss for a Merino ewe pregnant with twins to a terminal sire is $320.

DPIRD’s new online Sheep Flock Composition Calculator is a useful tool to predict changes in flock structure over time so producers can determine the impact of selling off breeding ewes on future financial returns over a six year period.

Cropping and land management

Summer weed control is a current priority for those that received adequate rainfall, as landholders weigh up the benefits of weed control versus the need to maintain ground cover to prevent erosion.

The Water Corporation reminds farm businesses that require access to large volumes of water for crop spraying to do so through designated high capacity local government standpipes to prevent potential impact on other drinking water supply scheme users and supplies designated for animal welfare purposes.

The Season 2020 webpage also includes links to natural resource management advice about managing the risk of erosion, with widespread reports of wind events during late summer and autumn.

The department also has several online tools and decision making aids to assist agribusinesses including:

DPIRD officers across the regions will continue to liaise with landholders and industry stakeholders as the growing season unfolds and update the Season 2020 webpage with pertinent information.

For more information contact Brendan Nicholas, Esperance manager, Esperance on +61 (0)8 9083 1110.