Farm­ers strug­gling with drought

Albany Advertiser - - NEWS - Jenne Bram­mer

Most grain grow­ers in WA are har­vest­ing bumper crops, but that’s not the case along WA’s south coast where farm­ers face dry­ing dams, are sell­ing off or hand-feed­ing sheep, and are get­ting barely half their nor­mal crop­ping yields.

Ru­ral Fi­nan­cial Coun­selling Ser­vice of WA coun­sel­lor An­drew Grist said many grow­ers around the Raven­sthorpe and Hopetoun ar­eas, through to Jer­ra­mungup and Al­bany, were re­port­ing the dri­est sea­son in more than 50 years. In some ar­eas it was the dri­est on record.

At West River, near Raven­sthorpe, the Dun­can fam­ily re­ceived just 168mm of rain dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son from April-Oc­to­ber, and 240mm for the year to date, com­pared with 370mm in an av­er­age year.

Twenty kilo­me­tres south of the Dun­cans, Peter Kuiper had 260mm this year, com­pared with an an­nual av­er­age of 420mm.

Jodi Dun­can, who farms with brother Rian and his wife Kar­ryn, said be­cause of a lack of ger­mi­nated pas­tures for feed, they sold 2000 sheep they would nor­mally have kept, leav­ing 7500.

Ms Dun­can said they also handfed re­main­ing sheep for most of the year, so far to­talling about 300 tonnes of grain, worth about $90,000 at cur­rent prices.

“Our big­gest prob­lem is that the dams are run­ning dry — which is a ma­jor con­cern across the dis­trict,” Ms Dun­can said. “About 10 of our 60 dams have no water, which will have a big im­pact on the parts of the farm we can run sheep on.

“It may force us to sell more live­stock.”

Mr Kuiper said his prop­erty had a sim­i­lar prob­lem, with the house dam be­ing the low­est in water since it was built in the 1970s. Ms Dun­can said re­cent thun­der­storms had not been enough to fill dams, do­ing lit­tle other than de­lay­ing har­vest and ger­mi­nat­ing sum­mer weeds, which means costly spray­ing.

She said a de­cent rain in Oc­to­ber was a god­send for re­viv­ing crops but yields for canola, at 0.38 tonnes a hectare, were still only 40 per cent of a nor­mal year.

Bar­ley yields were 1.5 tonnes/ ha, com­pared with about 2.4 tonnes/ha in other sea­sons.

Mr Kuiper’s yields for canola are about half the re­cent av­er­age of 1.5 tonnes/ha, while bar­ley is 2.3 tonnes/ha com­pared with an av­er­age 3.2 tonnes/ha.

Frosts in Septem­ber had also af­fected yields, he said. Also af­fect­ing op­er­a­tions were six se­vere wind events of more than 80km/h in May, caus­ing wind ero­sion and re­quir­ing hun­dreds of hectares to be re­seeded.

Ms Dun­can said strong wool and grain prices would help off­set the low pro­duc­tion lev­els.

“We try to keep this year in per­spec­tive by re­mind­ing our­selves that 2018 fol­lowed six above-av­er­age years for our prop­erty,” she said. “Our crop­ping re­sults this year, con­sid­er­ing th­ese con­di­tions, also de­mon­strate how far farm­ing has come.

“In 2002 we also had an ex­cep­tion­ally dry year, with sim­i­lar rain­fall, but grain yields then were about half of what we are get­ting now.

“This shows how new grain va­ri­eties and prac­tices such as sum­mer weed spray­ing (to pre­serve soil mois­ture) and early dry sow­ing have re­ally helped ad­vance farm­ing prac­tices.”

Pic­ture: Kar­ryn Dun­can

Jodi Dun­can at a dried-up dam at the West River prop­erty.

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