Littleproud meets with parched farmers hoping for rain

Zach RelphCountryman
Ravensthorpe grain-sheep farmer Andrew Chambers with Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, near Ravensthorpe.
Camera IconRavensthorpe grain-sheep farmer Andrew Chambers with Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, near Ravensthorpe. Credit: Zach Relph

When Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud flew into Ravensthorpe last week, he was greeted by grey skies.

The ominous setting provided a sense of optimism to the Queens-land native, who had travelled to the small wheat-sheep community in WA’s south coast on Friday to meet farmers battling drought-like conditions.

However, despite the dark clouds threatening to provide a long-awaited shower, parched producers are still waiting for heavy rain to soak their dry paddocks.

Less than 14mm fell at Ravensthorpe across January and February, with 36.6mm so far this month.

The lack of rainfall comes two years after the region was battered with extreme flooding, when torrential weather smashed farming properties and damaged roads in February 2017.

The ferocious floodwaters were so powerful, the main causeway to the heritage-listed Fitzgerald River National Park, near neighbouring coastal town Hopetoun, was swept away when the Culham Inlet’s banks burst.

The Culham Inlet causeway into the Fitzgerald River National park, near Hopetoun, was destroyed during 2017’s floods.
Camera IconThe Culham Inlet causeway into the Fitzgerald River National park, near Hopetoun, was destroyed during 2017’s floods. Credit: Peter Masters

From a supposed one-in-300-year flood to unseasonal dry lands, farmers outlined battling extremes from opposite sides of the spectrum during Mr Littleproud’s quick-fire day visit.

Ravensthorpe grain-sheep farmer Andrew Chambers is among producers working to overcome the rain deficiency who spoke with Mr Littleproud.

The grower was forced to de-stock about 2000 sheep of his 7000-strong flock in an effort to address the falling water levels.

Mr Chambers runs his mixed cropping-livestock operation across about 10,000ha and said the dry conditions had severely impacted farmers.

“Even though we are getting the occasional rain, there has been no substantial rainfall across the whole area,” he said.

“We’ve had to destock some sheep from one of our farms.

“We’ve also laid a lot of poly-pipe to pump water from our own dams, but that water is getting low.”

At the meeting, Ravensthorpe Agricultural Initiative Network and South East Premium Wheat Growers Associations warned regional grower groups were expected to deal with more issues while saying State and Federal government support was decreasing.

A dried up dam, near Ravensthorpe. During 2017’s floods, the same dam overflowed.
Camera IconA dried up dam, near Ravensthorpe. During 2017’s floods, the same dam overflowed. Credit: Zach Relph

South Coast Natural Resource Management chief executive Justin Bellanger reiterated concern and said research programs needed greater backing.

“All of these groups are a critical part of the community,” he said.

“Peer-to-peer learning is really important and grower groups help facilitate that.”

In addition to a void of rain, Ravensthorpe producers have been hit by a range biosecurity issues including feral camels, rabbits, wild dogs and skeleton weed.

Mr Littleproud announced a $1 million Federal Government commitment to the anticipated State Barrier Fence’s mooted Esperance extension while in Ravensthorpe.

The funding, championed by the region’s agricultural industry, is expected to fortify farming operations from ravaging wild dog attacks and emu migration.

For Mr Littleproud, venturing away from his Canberra office to meet regional farmers was important to understand the nation’s agriculture issues.

A lack of rainfall is reducing water levels at Ravensthorpe-based dams.
Camera IconA lack of rainfall is reducing water levels at Ravensthorpe-based dams. Credit: Zach Relph

“It is good to kick the dirt and listen to farmers,” he said.

“Every part of the country is different and we’ve seen how flood and now drought is impacting.

“It is always good to get out of the capital cities and see what I call ‘real Australians’ and what they’re doing out in the bush.”

As the Federal Agriculture Minister was about to board his flight from the town’s airport back to Perth, light drizzle started to fall.

And while the region’s farmers welcomed Mr Littleproud’s visit, they hope heavy rain will be the next to come.

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