Silver lining in Esperance fires

Corrina RidgwayThe West Australian

Fire-affected areas of Esperance are now facing a new set of agronomy challenges.

Farm and General Esperance agronomist Andrew Heinrich said that although it is difficult to find anything positive in a situation so negative, there may be some chances to capitalise.

"For those people that are looking at claying and delving - this is a golden opportunity," he said.

"Although farmers need to be aware of the clay type as well as the depth the clay is coming from, it will roughen the surface and alleviate erosion on the light sands.

"It's advisable to leave the clay rough until March next year before smudging it out."

Mr Heinrich also warned that if producers are planning to leave paddocks, the best practice will be to keep anything - even vehicles - off the surface.

"Unless we get horrendous winds, the soil will start to stabilise itself," he said.

Possible summer rain events will also give producers the option of putting in a cover crop such as oats, barley or wheat, which are more tolerant to erosion than broad leaf crops.

"But producers should try to use clean seed and really treat it as a commercial crop," Mr Heinrich said.

For those with stock he advised that millet and sorghum could be planted to provide cover as a summer crop.

"Pastures though, are an unknown. We will have to wait and see how much damage has been done to the seed bank," he said.

Although many weed seeds will have been destroyed, Mr Heinrich said that any weeds that do germinate should be used as cover up to the time just before seed set, and then sprayed off.

He also says that burnt silo bags may still retain viable seed.

"Silo bags are still possibly a good source of seed for next year," Mr Heinrich said.

"Due to the insulating quality of seed, the majority of the grain should be fine."

Along with a simple germination test that should be carried out on any seed retained for next season, Mr Heinrich advised that soil tests will also be paramount.

"Erosion targets the finer silt and clay particles first, which bind much of the nutrient content. It will be critical to soil test to get a handle on the nutrient status post fire," Mr Heinrich said.

A minor win will be the carryover of any herbicide residue.

"It's highly unlikely that herbicide residue will be affected - it lies deeper in the soil profile," Mr Heinrich said.

As for pests, Mr Heinrich said now is a golden opportunity to get on top of snail populations that cause havoc in paddocks.

The heat and fire is thought to have taken out most of the small conical and white Italian snail population above ground.

"Nature has thrown a curveball here and people can take advantage of that. People need to be prepared to bait this autumn, throwing out a few baits for a start to see whether the snails go to them," he said.

"If they do, then a broad scale baiting program can be implemented."

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