Wickepin farmer Gary Lang in waterlogged canola.

‘Amazing turnaround’ — from dry dams to the most rain Wickepin has seen since 1945

Main Image: Wickepin farmer Gary Lang in waterlogged canola. Credit: Shannon Verhagen

Shannon VerhagenCountryman

Last year the dams were all but dry on Wickepin farmer Gary Lang’s property.

This year, in an “amazing turnaround,” he has been furiously pumping excess water into the creek system to stop it flooding crops.

The Wheatbelt farming family has already clocked 364mm for the growing season on their home farm — the wettest for seven decades.

Where there should be blankets of golden flowers, in some areas of the crops are puddles reflecting the blue of the sky, bordered by wilted canola leaves in varied hues of red, orange and brown.

Wickepin farmer Gary Lang in waterlogged canola crops.
Camera IconWickepin farmer Gary Lang in waterlogged canola crops.

It is the kind of rain third- generation farmer Mr Lang has not seen since coming back to the family farm in 1983.

It meant for a nice, easy seeding, but spraying and spreading will be a different story, with them having been unable to get on the soggy paddocks for weeks and considering getting a plane or chopper in to help.

“This year’s been very wet,” Mr Lang said. “We’ve had 462mm for the year and our average annual rainfall is 380mm.

“It is the wettest year in the 40 years of records I’ve got for here, and 1945 using the Wickepin Bureau of Meteorology records was the last time it was this wet by the end of July. We had 30mm in the first week of February, March and April, so the crop went in really easily — no dust.

“We got 110mm in May, including 75mm in one night, which stopped us seeding for 4-5 days. We had a much drier June thankfully.

I’ve been pumping and siphoning dams trying to get all of the excess water down the creek, which is really bizarre — by the end of January we had three dams on the whole farm left with any water in them, but now we’re trying to furiously get rid of it. It’s just an amazing turnaround.

Gary Lang
Waterlogged canola crops in Wickepin.
Camera IconWaterlogged canola crops in Wickepin.

Mr Lang runs a 90 per cent crop, 10 per cent sheep farm with his wife Sue on 5868ha just north of town, cropping canola, wheat, barley, oats and lupins and breeding 2500 cross-bred lambs.

In his time on the property — which has grown from 445ha since his grandad first bought it in 1923 — he has seen his fair share of weather variations.

It has generally been dry since the turn of the century, with 2008-2012 some “really tough” years, a massive frost in 2016 in which they lost 60 per cent of their yield, and 2010 being the driest they’d ever seen.

“We had 98mm on our eastern farm in the growing season and 130mm here (in 2010), and this year we’re sitting on 364mm in the growing season and it’s only July,” Mr Lang said.

September is still the main month. We’re almost assured of not being short of moisture in September... but frost is a big thing.

Gary Lang

At this stage it has had a mixed impact across the property, with Mr Lang struggling to estimate the losses in many paddocks.

“We’ve had 80mm less out on the eastern farm,” he said. “The crops out there are pretty good, but the crops back here are suffering from the wet now, particular barley on the flats.

“The oats handle some waterlogging, so that’s fine. The lupins are being affected badly and the canola seems to handle a bit.’’

“It would have absolutely devastated us before we started no-tilling 25-30 years ago... the water would’ve sat there much longer and cause much more damage... and the nitrogen management we’ve introduced in the last 5-10 years will make a difference.”

Wickepin farmer Gary Lang in one of his canola crops that has not suffered too much from waterlogging.
Camera IconWickepin farmer Gary Lang in one of his canola crops that has not suffered too much from waterlogging. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman/Shannon Verhagen/Countryman

The State’s grain growers planted a record 9 million hectares this year off the back of the wet start, but widespread waterlogging could impact the 20 million tonne crop anticipated to come from it.

Mr Lang was confident it would not wreak too much havoc on the end result come harvest given sky-high commodity prices.

“We’re coming down from the best crops we’ve ever had at the end of June,” he said.

Average yields are still really profitable as grain prices are still really strong.

Gary Lang

As for the next few weeks, some sunshine would be nice, Mr Lang said.

“I don’t like it wet any more than I like it dry — I’m all about perfect growing conditions thank you,” he laughed.