Bone-dry outlook for Ravensthorpe farmers

Zach RelphCountryman
Ravensthorpe farmers Jenny and Andrew Chambers, pictured in May during seeding.
Camera IconRavensthorpe farmers Jenny and Andrew Chambers, pictured in May during seeding. Credit: Cally Dupe

Drought-stricken farmers along WA’s south coast remain bone dry ahead of summer, fearing an expected lack of rain during the upcoming warmer months could further dent on-farm yields.

Ravensthorpe farmer Andrew Chambers is among producers battling the region’s prolonged dry spell, which led to the State Government declaring the nearby Mt Short area water deficient four months ago.

The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation has been carting water to Mt Short, about 20km north of Ravensthorpe, since May 8 — a day after it was declared water deficient.

Since then, more than 1962 kilolitres of water has been delivered to a tank at Mt Short dam in an attempt to replenish parched farmers’ water supply for livestock.

Mr Chambers has been carting water to his property from Mt Short, after parched conditions forced the family to reduce their 7000 head flock to about 3000 earlier this year.

The sheep producer and grain grower, who is buying sheep and has built numbers back to 4000 head, said he had reduced visits to the Mt Short water supply in recent weeks but the situation was still dire.

Bare paddocks at Mt Short, near Ravensthorpe, in May this year after water deficiency was declared.
Camera IconBare paddocks at Mt Short, near Ravensthorpe, in May this year after water deficiency was declared. Credit: Cally Dupe

“The dams and catchments are ready to catch water, but we need a solid rain to make it run-off,” he said.

“We will be OK for the first part of summer; it is the late part of summer and early autumn that could be a problem.

“Having the department cart water has taken a lot of pressure off decisions and if we didn’t have it, we might not be increasing our sheep numbers at the moment.

The water availability has been a big help and allowed us to keep farming.”

The Mallee Hill area, near Lake Grace, was declared water deficient on May 15 with emergency livestock water carting starting 24 hours later.

Less than three weeks after the Mallee Hill declaration, WA Water Minister Dave Kelly revealed the Hollands Rock area in the Shire of Kent had also been deemed water deficient.

Water carting to the Mallee Hill and Hollands Rock areas was suspended on July 30, with 1988 kilolitres and 954 kilolitres respectively delivered to both sites.

The decision came after farmers told DWER there was sufficient water levels on-farm for livestock, a department spokesman said.

The south coast’s devastating weather was compounded by the driest January to May across the State’s agriculture region since records started in 1900.

According to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s weather station, 0.4mm fell at Ravensthorpe on Monday last week and 0.2mm was recorded on Thursday.

DWER surveyed the strategic community water supply dams and supplies available to farmers near Ravensthorpe earlier this month.

A department spokesman said it identified low rainfall had continued to impact on water storage in the area, with Mt Short dam at about 25 per cent capacity.

In addition to the ongoing dry weather, the Chambers’ 7500ha cropping enterprise was unable to escape the frost which hit Esperance and surrounding areas this month.

“Hopefully, some of the later heads won’t be affected but a lot of the early heads have been hit,” he said.

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