‘Perfect storm’: Fire-affected Wheatbelt farmers welcome 50mm-100mm of rain to settle dust and start seeding

Headshot of Shannon Verhagen
Corrigin farmers Ashley Jacobs and Des Hickey welcomed last week's rain.
Camera IconCorrigin farmers Ashley Jacobs and Des Hickey welcomed last week's rain. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman

The first crops of the year are being sown in the Wheatbelt after fire-ravaged farms received a handy dose of rain last week, with some areas tipping more than 100mm out of the gauge.

Airseeders loaded with canola have begun whirring along paddocks in many of the State’s grain-growing regions, with steady falls from March 25 into early April injecting much-needed subsoil moisture.

It comes after a hot, dry and dusty summer, which also devastated communities in the shires of Bruce Rock, Corrigin, Quairading, Narrogin and Wickepin when two separate “firestorms” ripped through more than 60,000ha after igniting on February 6.

In the two months since the Shackleton-Corrigin and Narrogin-Wickepin blazes, farmers have been clearing burnt trees, fences and replacing damaged machinery amid “horrendous” dust storms.

But back-to-back storm cells during the last weekend of March and in the days that followed have wet the ground, which farmers say looked like the “Sahara Desert” after the ground cover went up in smoke.

Corrigin Shire president and farmer Des Hickey.
Camera IconCorrigin Shire president and farmer Des Hickey. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman/Countryman

Corrigin Shire president and farmer Des Hickey — who had 85 per cent of his property burnt in the horrific blaze — called the week of wet weather the “perfect storm”.

Between 50mm and 127.8mm has fallen within the Shire during the past two weeks.

“There is nothing like a drop of good rain — it restores a lot of hope moving forward,” Mr Hickey said.

During the course of 10 days, fire-razed areas Babakin (89.9mm), Corrigin (56.4mm) and Corrigin North East (127.8mm) had steady falls, with paddocks beginning to show glimpses of green as paddocks germinate.

The solid rainfall has prompted many farmers, including Mr Hickey, to start sowing canola last weekend to take advantage of the moisture.

“We could have not have asked for better timing,” Mr Hickey said.

“If we could have ordered a perfect storm, we’ve just got it. . . it’s absolutely phenomenal.”

As well as paddocks exhibiting a touch of green, patches of burnt bush have begun to show the first signs of recovery, with mallee trees beginning to shoot from their burnt bases.

A mallee tree on the side of the road in Corrigin is resprouting after the February fire..
Camera IconA mallee tree on the side of the road in Corrigin is resprouting after the February fire.. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman/Countryman

Other areas affected by the blazes got smaller, but still welcome falls according to the Bureau of Meteorology, with Quairading recording 33.2mm, Narrogin 24.4mm and Wickepin 24.2mm.

Several communities hit triple digits between March 25 and April 4, including Moora North West (142.8mm), Koorda (128.6mm), Canna East (121.8mm), Badgingarra (110.8mm), Eneabba (112mm), Kellerberrin (102mm) and Northcliffe (101.2mm).

Bruce Rock grain and sheep farmer Tanya Kilminster said the 60mm that fell on her farm north of town was “absolutely amazing”.

“It will set the season up beautifully,” she said.

Bruce Rock farmer Jane Fuchsbichler.
Camera IconBruce Rock farmer Jane Fuchsbichler. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman/Countryman

The paddocks at her neighbour Jane Fushbichler’s place also had a welcome drink, with steady falls on Wednesday dropping about 20mm in one day on the farm.

Having managed to secure replacement seeding equipment after his chaser bin went up in flames in the February fire, Corrigin grain and sheep grower Ashley Jacobs — who got about 56mm — said it was “very good” to get the rain and be able to start their seeding program.

“The last five weeks haven’t been very nice on the farm, a lot of it’s been blowing and looking a bit like the Sahara Desert,” he said.

“Any windy day and it’s just a dust storm out here, so at least this will stop it for the rest of the year, hopefully.

“Since the moisture conditions are right we’ll get going on canola.”

WA Rainfall Totals March 25 - April 4

Allanooka: 76.2mm

Babakin: 89.9mm

Badgingarra: 110.8mm

Beacon: 59.4mm

Belka East: 76.6mm

Bencubbin: 77.8mm

Burakin: 87.8mm

Canna East: 121.8mm

Cascade NE: 46.2mm

Corrigin: 56.4mm

Corrigin East: 127.8mm

Denmark: 50.6mm

Dragon Rocks: 78.4mm

Dudawa: 96.4mm

Eneabba: 112mm

Gnowangerup: 69.8mm

Highbury East: 54.8mm

Hyden: 63.8mm

Kalannie: 99mm

Kellerberrin: 102mm

Koorda: 128.6mm

Kondinin: 70.8mm

Lake King: 74.8mm

Manypeaks: 78.4mm

Moora NW: 142.8mm

Narrikup: 75.8mm

Narrogin: 24.4mm

Northcliffe: 101.2mm

Nyabing: 74.2mm

Ongerup: 68.4mm

Pemberton: 65.8mm

Pindar South: 74.8mm

Salmon Gums: 37.2mm

West River: 50mm

Woodanilling: 40mm

York East: 40.6mm

Yuna NE: 96.4mm

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