A farmer-led project to help “futureproof” farms battling in the country’s “most prolonged drought area” in the Great Southern has welcomed a $365,445 Federal Government windfall. The 18-month soil moisture project — run by South Coast NRM — will involve water retention, catchment and movement trials throughout the region’s “critically impacted zone,” from Ravensthorpe to Cranbrook, to inform farm planning in drought-affected areas. The group was one of 12 regional natural resource management bodies across the country selected to share in $5 million under the Future Drought Fund’s NRM Drought Resilience Program — Landscapes program. When sufficient soil moisture exists, the southern region is responsible for up to 46 per cent of the State’s grain production, however in the past two years, many farms have had less than 40 per cent of their usual rainfall. South Coast NRM chief executive Justin Ballenger said the project could help hundreds — potentially thousands — of farmers battling the dry. The project aims to facilitate the development of farm drought-mitigation management plans for 30 farmers in water-deficient areas and assist another 100 farmers through a series of on-ground activities and demonstrations. Through the project’s partner groups — AgZero2030, the Gillamii Centre, Ravensthorpe Agricultural Initiative Network — Mr Ballenger hoped an extended network of more than 4000 could be reached. In 2019-20, the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation spent $3.36 million carting water to 12 areas declared water deficient by the State Government, including three in the project area. Active deficiencies include Mt Short and West River areas in the Shire of Ravensthorpe and Jerramungup North, in the Shire of Jerramungup. A farmer-driven steering committee will determine the key focuses for the trials, using peer-based learning and information from “conversations over the fencepost,” Mr Ballenger said. Trials will be undertaken across the region, investigating soil wetters, contours, reconfiguration of precision agriculture and broadly improving soil conditions. “Most rainfall in recent years has either evaporated before contributing to soil moisture or been insufficient to provide run-off into dams,” Mr Ballenger said. “Conversely where it has rained it has occurred sporadically and heavily primarily between November and April, impacting farmers in sub-catchments through destructive water and wind-related erosion that has washed away productive topsoil and on-farm infrastructure. Mr Ballenger said the project — Farmers Helping Farmers to Maximise Soil Moisture and Production from Australia’s Most Prolonged Drought Area — would help “futureproof” farms to ensure rainfall was retained in paddocks and dams. “This will maximise its potential to produce food and fibre during low rainfall, and minimise the loss of farm assets (soil, infrastructure) during highly erosive rainfall events associated with climate change,” he said. The project will also look to shift mindsets among the agricultural community. “We need to reframe the perspective so there’s capital investment in infrastructure and they look at water as an asset in the same way they’d look at fertiliser.” Geraldton-based Northern Agricultural Catchments Council WA were also awarded $499,740 and were contacted for comment. Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud commended the projects, which he said would build long-term resilience and preparedness and deliver innovative and tangible outcomes for farmers, communities and the land they relied on.