Post-fire seeding pays off

Corrina RidgwayThe West Australian

"Trust me, mum," were the last words Rhonda Morcombe heard from son Shorty as he headed out the door.

Just two days after the Scaddan/Cascades fire ravaged their property, Shorty announced he was going seeding.

There was nothing left to harvest - the fire had taken the 295ha of wheat left, which had been averaging just over 5t/ha.

Mrs Morcombe was slightly shocked. "I was thinking: 'Please, I hope this boy of mine's efforts don't go to waste," she said.

A quick word of reassurance from a neighbour put her mind at rest.

In a twist of fate, the property received 30mm of rain the fortnight previously, which had hampered harvest efforts.

"I just remembered how the soil stuck to my knees when I was checking grain loss," Mrs Morcombe said.

"I knew it was pretty damp. It just seemed too good to not be seeding into."

In what he says is the fastest seeding yet, Mr Morcombe sowed almost the entire 1500ha property in 2 1/2 weeks with an Acremaster tractor and a 40-foot bar.

Just 40ha of canola stubble remained untouched on the farm. Because of time restraints, Mr Morcombe left 90ha of heavier ground untouched.

Now the unseasonably green paddocks have given some Christmas cheer, as Mr Morcombe's calculated decision seems to have paid off. He is relieved to see the topsoil holding as winds buffer the fragile region.

Desperate to grow some cover and reach the subsoil moisture, a mixture of 15kg/ha of Hindmarsh barley and 4.5kg/ha of Shirohie millet was sown at a depth of 30mm.

Further rain, which started the day of his mission, yielded another 8mm and was backed up a few weeks later with another 5mm.

The generosity of donations allowed WAFarmers to pay for Mr Morcombe's first tonne of millet and the remaining 3.5 tonnes has been supplied by a local business at a discounted rate.

The Morcombes say that to date, half of next year's labour budget has been spent in clean-up efforts and with millet worth about $4500 a tonne, it has been an enormous help.

"The millet was put in as it is a summer crop and it'll handle the hotter summer months better," Mr Morcombe said.

"The barley is a faster germinating seed so it allowed a quick coverage to halt the drifting while the millet establishes."

The next step will be to spray the paddocks in mid-January.

"Once the height gets up, the agronomist will advise me on when to spray off," he said.

"We need to conserve as much subsoil moisture left as possible for the coming season."

Mr Morcombe is aiming to keep the paddocks clean and seed as usual. The fear in the region now is that next season's crops won't perform as well.

"We won't have much moisture as it will have been burnt up with this summer crop," Mrs Morcombe said.

"We've also lost all the carbon and sugars from the straw trash. The long-term effects of the fires are an unknown."

For the moment, Mrs Morcombe is happy the farm is in safe hands with her son after her husband, Trevor, died in a farming accident in 2012.

"I couldn't help but to think of Trevor," she said.

"He would have found it so difficult to see his farm on fire. But now I know that Shorty will look after it. His dad would be very proud of him."

Mrs Morcombe noted the paddocks were not the only sign of life.

"The mudlarks have just come back, I can hear them in the mornings now," she said.

Mrs Morcombe is intent on recreating the garden, where 20 years of effort and some 40-year-old fruit trees were lost to the fires.

The Morcombes' seasonal wish is for their community to have a happy Christmas and look forward to 2016.

"And to be encouraged by all the support within and outside of the community," Mrs Morecambe said.

"There has been a real stir of camaraderie and everyone is looking out for each other."

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