Pingrup farmers Andrew and Zoey Grant-Williams with their son Cooper, 3, at one of their flooded paddocks.

Drought to floods — Pingrup families flooded into farms after 130mm for July

Main Image: Pingrup farmers Andrew and Zoey Grant-Williams with their son Cooper, 3, at one of their flooded paddocks. Credit: Picture: Shannon Verhagen

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Farmers are swapping utes for boats and digging emergency levee banks as homes in the Great Southern community of Pingrup become islands in rising floodwaters.

Children are missing school after heavy rain, with flooded roads posing too dangerous.

The soggy conditions have presented a new challenge for second and fourth-generation farmers Andrew and Zoey Grant-Williams, who lived in a “dust bowl” at their 1100ha farm for the past two years while the region was in drought.

Flooded paddocks in Pingrup after getting 136mm in July.
Camera IconFlooded paddocks in Pingrup after getting 136mm in July.

They watched as “thundering winds” and dust storms barrelled through their property for two-weeks straight late last year — annihilating half of their 750ha cropping program.

The Grant-Williams were also forced to destock 2000 of their 3000-head Merino-cross flock because there was not enough feed.

Today, they are locked into their farm by floodwaters after July brought with it a deluge of 136mm — more than their whole year’s total in 2019 and 2020. They are taking to paddocks by boat, hoping to find sheep unaccounted for safe from harm on higher ground.

We’ve got creek lines we never knew existed and lakes that were bone dry and dust a month ago now overflowing and causing roads to be inaccessible.

Zoey Grant-Williams

Like many, they first celebrated the drought-breaking autumn and winter rain which replenished subsoil moisture and allowed their ewes to lamb on to green feed for the first time in two years.

The wet weather is now taking its toll, with crops yellowed from waterlogging and 10 per cent of their sheep flock killed by floods.

“It’s insane to think we went through two droughts and water being carted in the district to now having too much water,” Mrs Grant-Williams said.

Flooded paddocks in Pingrup after getting 136mm in July.
Camera IconFlooded paddocks in Pingrup after getting 136mm in July.

“People say we are ungrateful but it’s such a fine line we have to walk down — we don’t get a weekly pay cheque guaranteed.

“To watch your livestock floating down the river and stuck in trees drowning — that’s our livelihood waving us goodbye.

We’ve lost roughly 100 ewes with lambs at foot and in full wool.

Zoey Grant-Williams

“We still can’t find a percentage, but we can’t access everywhere yet so we are hoping they’re on high ground.”

The past three years have been a rollercoaster of weather extremes for the couple, who have three children Stella, seven, Cooper, three, and Bradey, one.

Pingrup farmer Andrew Grant-Williams using his boat to navigate flooded paddocks.
Camera IconPingrup farmer Andrew Grant-Williams using his boat to navigate flooded paddocks. Credit: Pictures: Zoey Grant-Williams

Previously in Albany, where Mrs Grant-Williams helped to run her parents’ Napier cattle farm, the couple embarked on their own farming adventure when the Pingrup property came up by chance when Mr Grant-Williams was passing through on the way to get hay.

After hearing the owner wanted to sell, he approached him “on a whim” and with the backing of Mrs Grant-Williams’ parents, they were successful in leasing the property.

“(The owner) has basically given us a red hot go — we’re very grateful and very lucky,” Mr Grant-Williams said.

It has given the young couple an opportunity they are extremely thankful for.

“I’ve always wanted to go back farming,” Mrs Grant-Williams said.

“But these days young kids trying to go farming on their own is not possible, so Mum and Dad backed us in a business sense so we’re in a four-way partnership with them.

“Rather than handing down a farm they’re helping us build it.”

Pingrup farmers Andrew and Zoey Grant-Williams with their son Cooper, 3, at one of their flooded paddocks.
Camera IconPingrup farmers Andrew and Zoey Grant-Williams with their son Cooper, 3, at one of their flooded paddocks.

In the years since, they have faced some of the regions’ driest years, and now, one of the wettest.

Upon returning from Albany in early July, they got a shock turning into their gravel driveway.

“It was one big blanket of water down the middle of the road — 2.5km of water,” Mr Grant-Williams said. “Luckily we were in a four-wheel-drive.”

Cooper Grant-Williams, 3, splashes in one of the flooded paddocks.
Camera IconCooper Grant-Williams, 3, splashes in one of the flooded paddocks. Credit: Picture: Shannon Verhagen

But that was not the last of the rain, with several cold fronts taking the area’s rainfall total upwards of 300mm.

Roads are getting more dangerous each time it rains and the unknown under the water is growing.

Zoey Grant-Williams

They have spent countless hours digging levee banks to direct the floodwaters — which came within metres of their home — into dams and away from their home, sheds and sheep yards.

“We’ve been opening up channels and emptying them out from all of the wind-blown sand from the last couple of years, because we never expected this much rain,” Mr Grant-Williams said.

Camera IconCredit: Picture: Andrew Grant-Williams

They will also have to investigate alternative fertiliser application methods as they are unable to access paddocks.

While they would still be hoping for a bit of rain come September, they said it was “time to turn the tap off” for now and replace it with a couple of weeks of sunshine.