Farmers crave late rain to end dry spell

Zach RelphCountryman
Newdegate farmer Geoff Richardson with a dry dam at his property in May.
Camera IconNewdegate farmer Geoff Richardson with a dry dam at his property in May. Credit: Cally Dupe

Desperate farmers are hoping for rain to wash away the angst.

After the driest January to May across the State’s agriculture region since records started in 1900, many farms in WA’s south remain bone-dry amid a hampering dry spell.

Geoff Richardson, of Newdegate, opted to scale back his flock from about 3000 head to 2000 head and is bracing for a potentially lower grain yield this harvest.

The western part of the Richardson family farm lies in the Mallee Hill area, south of Lake Grace, which the State Government declared water deficient on May 15.

With water levels hovering around 1m at “a couple” of dams on the family’s property, Mr Richardson is not in dire straits.

However, he is preparing for dwindling water supplies over summer despite receiving about 14mm of rain on October 11-12.

“We should get to Christmas all right, (but) it could be looking pretty tight towards the end of summer,” Mr Richardson said.

“We’re hoping for a summer thunderstorm, which would be the best-case scenario, and probably fix everything in 10 minutes.”

Mr Richardson was able to keep his flock hydrated without tapping into supplies at two 220kl tanks installed at Mallee Hill in the wake of the water-deficiency declaration.

Water carting to Mallee Hill was suspended on July 30, with 1988 kilolitres delivered to the site, after farmers told the State Government there were sufficient water levels on-farm for livestock.

According to Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s weather station, 41.6mm fell at Newdegate in July, 68.6mm filled the gauge in August and less than 15mm dropped last month.

Mr Richardson said welcome showers in late August raised hopes of good rainfall in September, which never eventuated.

About 130km south-east of Newdegate, Ravensthorpe-based farmers are also enduring the ongoing tough conditions.

Mt Short, about 20km north of Ravensthorpe, was declared water deficient on May 8 and the State Government started carting water to the area a day later.

The water declaration is still in effect at Mt Short, with Ravensthorpe farmer Andrew Chambers last month saying he will have enough water for the start of summer, but was worried about supplies for late summer and early autumn.

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