Big dry takes hold in Gairdner

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Gairdner farmers Erryn and Glen Hall.
Camera IconGairdner farmers Erryn and Glen Hall. Credit: Liam Croy

The drying of the Gairdner Community Dam for the first time in history was a clear signal it was time for farmers in a normally high-rainfall area to ask for help.

Glen and Erryn Hall were just two of dozens of farmers that had been making near-daily trips to the dam since January 1, pumping water to cart home in a 9500-litre truck to keep their Merino flock alive.

Glen and Erryn farm with their son Craig and daughter-in-law Naomi, who have two children Jamon, 4, and Quinn, 2.

The Halls were part of a group of about 10 farmers that asked the Shire of Jerramungup to formally request a water deficiency declaration from the State Government — a wish granted last week.

The first 660 kilolitres of what will now be a weekly water delivery was carted to two 75,000-litre mobile water tanks at CBH’s Gairdner site on Friday to help farmers in need of water for livestock.

It has been about eight months since the last double-digit rainfall event at the Halls’ property, 10km east of Gairdner, with 86mm falling in unusual 3mm and 4mm increments since the start of the year.

Gairdner farmers Glen and Erryn Hall with their dog Baxter.
Camera IconGairdner farmers Glen and Erryn Hall with their dog Baxter.

In a normal year the Halls would have tipped about 120mm out of their rainfall gauge by now and would be optimistic of receiving about 400mm across the year.

Normally, about 280mm would fall while their 3000ha cropping program was growing between June and October, making the Gairdner area — and its sandy soils — a reliable farming area.

“A dry spell to this extent is unheard of for Gairdner,” Mr Hall said.

“We have had dry spells before but this is the first time the community dam has been used to this extent and effectively run out.

“We have 36 dams and there are only two with 1.5m of water between them ... without a good 25mm of rain we will run out of water completely.”

The Halls run a 3000ha mixed farm, with 1250ha of wheat, 550ha of barley and 600ha of canola in the ground this year.

They also have 2500 Merino ewes, with 700 crossbred lambs born in March, and another 900 Merino lambs starting to drop now.

Mr Hall said while it was not unheard of to have “a few dry dams” on properties at Gairdner, it was extremely unusual for dams to be completely empty along WA’s south coastal district.

He had also never heard of the Gairdner Community Dam running dry.

The 30,000 cubic metre dam on South Coastal Highway can hold 30,000kl and draws on a 9ha catchment area including run-off from the CBH bin. But Mr Hall said it would need several 20mm falls to replenish it.

The Halls reduced their sheep flock by selling 600 Merino wethers in February, about three months earlier than usual,. They plan to sell 700 ewes next week.

A good lambing season has caused a “bit of an issue”, with about 1600 crossbred lambs born in March now ready for weaning from their mothers but there is no green feed for them to eat.

The lambs will next week be weaned and placed into a feedlot on the farm, while their mothers — all 700 of them — will be sold, some to an abattoir and some to the Eastern States where demand for breeding stock is strong.

Like many farmers in their area, the Halls would have faced the difficult decision to sell all of their sheep if they had run out of water completely.

Glen Hall with the tanks he's been using to cart water.
Camera IconGlen Hall with the tanks he's been using to cart water. Credit: Liam Cory

With sheep prices trading at record highs, it would have made it “almost impossible” for the Halls to rebuild their flock until prices softened.

“It has been quite a worry. This dry has caused quite a bit of stress ... you are always hoping it is going to rain,” Mr Hall said.

“We have a lot of crop that hasn’t even come up yet and we have 300ha of pasture seeded months ago that hasn’t come up at all.”

Tantalising long-range forecasts have instilled hope in the Halls several times but they have been left disappointed.

Mr Hall said the small amounts of rain had encouraged weeds to spring up in catchment areas, meaning higher rainfall events were less likely to provide any meaningful run-off into dams.

“We would need at least 25mm for a start but we would need several falls like that to put any quantity of water back into the dams around Gairdner,” Mr Hall said.

“We just need a damn good shower of rain.”

The Halls recently bought a 100,000-litre tank for their truck to increase water-carting capacity, meaning fewer trips to town.

“Having this water available at the CBH bin has taken a lot of pressure off people, because they were getting pretty stressed,” Mr Hall said.

“We kept putting off going to the Shire for help, because we kept thinking we would get 20mm and things would be OK.

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