Wheatbelt farmers prepare for a seeding season like no other as clean up after catastrophic fires continues

Headshot of Shannon Verhagen
Seeding at Corrigin. Veronika Crouch
Camera IconSeeding at Corrigin. Veronika Crouch Credit: Veronika Crouch/Veronika Crouch

Fire-affected farmers across the Wheatbelt are preparing for a seeding program like no other, with barren, sandy soils forcing them to change rotations they have spent their whole lives perfecting.

It comes after devastating bushfires firefighters likened to a “firestorm” razed more than 65,000ha across the shires of Bruce Rock, Corrigin, Quairading, Narrogin and Wickepin on February 6.

As the clean up progresses, the buckled sheds, fallen trees, burnt out machinery and mangled fences which have acted as a constant reminder, are slowly being cleared.

Fire damage at a farm in the Shire of Corrigin.
Camera IconFire damage at a farm in the Shire of Corrigin. Credit: Facebook/David Wrighton/RegionalHUB

Almost two months on, lack of ground cover is proving a major concern for both seeding and stock feed.

What were once paddocks covered in pasture or stubble, are more akin to a desert, with dust storms coating the community regularly, after the blaze left much of the area without any ground cover.

Shire of Corrigin president Des Hickey — who lost three bags of barley when the fire tore through 80 per cent of his farm — said there were “hundreds” of piles of dead trees being pushed together for burning, leaving the landscape very bare.

He said the state of the soil would force many farmers to alter their rotations, with long lasting impacts.

“We’ve all had to change programs to counteract the fire at a cost to us,” he said.

“We can’t grow lupins as we’ve got no stubble to protect them, and we’ve reduced canola down to a third of what we would normally have. You can’t sow it on to this sandy country.

“It’s very frustrating as we spent years and years working on our four to six year rotation and having to take a legume out of the system now will lead to complications down the track.”

Scenes from the aftermath of the Corrigin bushfire
Camera IconScenes from the aftermath of the Corrigin bushfire Credit: Geoff Fisher/RegionalHUB

Corrigin Farm Improvement Group executive officer Veronika Crouch said soil erosion was one of the biggest concerns for growers at this stage.

“We’re very much at high risk of soil erosion,” she said.

“Usually coming into seeding you get some pretty strong fronts come through and it’s been blowing already.

“The country’s at high risk and unfortunately we haven’t had a decent rain event to assist it.”

To support impacted growers, the CFIG and Facey Group are partnering to deliver two Farming After Fire Workshops on Thursday March 31, which will not only connect growers with helpful information, but allow them to catch up and share their experiences.

“It will be about connecting them with information and helping people make good agronomic decisions moving forward,” Mrs Crouch said.

It follows an earlier event held by the grower groups on March 2, where Esperance farmers Greg Curnow and Dan Sanderson and Brookton grower Murray Hall shared their own experiences with farming after bushfires.

Asbestos has also proved an issue for some growers, with those impacted having to wait for specialist removalists to come out and take it away.

Corrigin woolgrower Steven Bolt and his family had not returned home since the blaze, which killed 30 of their prize breeding stock, because a fence in their front yard was made of asbestos.

Mr Bolt said they were “very grateful” to have been put up in a house in town by some locals and hoped they would be able to return within the next couple of weeks.

With BlazeAid helping with fencing and his burnt shearing shed now cleared away, he said they had just started to rebuild fences and tidy up sites for new infrastructure and to get their agisted stock back on-farm.

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