WA farmers swelter through heatwave with five days over 40 degrees

Headshot of Shannon Verhagen
Yuna farmer and agronomist Belinda Eastough.
Camera IconYuna farmer and agronomist Belinda Eastough. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman/Countryman

WA farmers have sweltered through one of the State’s hottest and longest heatwaves in years, with some facing extreme temperatures above 40C for almost a week straight.

The mercury first rose above 40C on January 11 and 12, before dipping back into the 30s to provide a few days of relief ahead of soaring again days later, with some towns clocking up six days in a row.

The hottest temperatures have been felt in Pardoo (45.6), Yuna (44.8), Regans Ford (44.8), Westonia (44.7), Nyabing (45.4), Mukinbudin (44.3), Mullewa (44), Pindar (43.7), Trayning (43.6), Wongoondy (43.6), Mingenew (43.5), Mount Walker (43.5), Yilgarn (43.2), Morawa (43) and Northampton (42.9).

While many Mid West and Wheatbelt towns are used to extreme temperatures over summer, the heatwave has also hit some areas which normally scrape through summer without too many hot days.

Manjimup, Pemberton, Donnybrook, Capel and Dinninup all clocked in higher than 40C on Thursday and Friday, after a string of days in the high 30s.

Pemberton cattle and potato farmer John Bendotti.
Camera IconPemberton cattle and potato farmer John Bendotti. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

It has seen Pemberton beef and potato farmer John Bendotti irrigating around the clock to keep his potato crops hydrated.

“The pumps haven’t stopped running,” he said. “We’ve got pivots, so we’re running them night and day, it hasn’t stopped. It’s really been hot since Christmas.

“We haven’t had a week like this for a long time, but I think we had a hotter one about 20 years ago.”

About halfway through calving 240 head, he is spending most of his time making sure it is going smoothly and ushering them into the shade to protect mother and calf from the harsh temperatures.

“I move them in the very early morning and get them under the trees,” Mr Bendotti said. “It’s important that they get into the shade.

“Everything is going well so far, which is good. And hopefully the heat doesn’t impact the crops too much.”

Boyup Brook farmers Hayley and Clinton Graham — who farm with Mrs Graham’s parents Harold and Helen Wass — sweltered through almost a week of 36-38 degree days last week, which slowed them down on their final stretch of harvest.

“I think we had five or six days in a row that were around 36-38, so close enough to 40,” Mrs Graham said.

“We had harvest bans, so did most of our harvest in late afternoon or early morning.

“It slowed us down a bit but we’d rather that than have a fire.

“We have Dad in the harvester seat so it actually worked quite well, he could start early, have a rest in the middle of the day then pick up again in the evening.”

Boyup Brook farmer Harold Wass with his grandkids John Graham, 4, and Hannah Graham, 5.
Camera IconBoyup Brook farmer Harold Wass with his grandkids John Graham, 4, and Hannah Graham, 5. Credit: Jon Gellweiler

With just three paddocks to go — and a last minute dash to Northampton to get a replacement comb after a rock went through theirs on Friday — they are confident the hot weather will not have too much of an impact on the crops left in the ground.

Perenjori farmer and shire president Chris King said he was waiting for the weather to cool down to clean up his header after harvest.

While he said it was not “too unusual” to get weather like the past week, he said people would likely be sticking to indoor jobs, working at night or having a post-harvest break on the coast.

Yuna farmer and agronomist Belinda Eastough said while it was not too unusual to have a string of hot days over summer, she could not remember the last time they had two within a fortnight.

“It’s been pretty toasty,” she said.

“We had one week that was absolutely boiling, then it cooled off a bit down to about 37, but then we had another week that was absolutely boiling.

“Sunday was around 44 — it was pretty ugly.”

The grain, sheep and cattle farmer said ensuring stock had plenty of water and shade — and did not have to walk far between the two — was critical to reducing heat stress on the animals.

After 2021-22’s bumper crops — which the Mid West finished harvesting about a month ago — and the extreme temperatures of the past couple of weeks, she anticipated many paddocks in the region would now be quite dry.

“The crops were pretty heavy, they used a fair bit of water,” Mrs Eastough said.

“When you grow a big crop, it tends to have fairly high water use, your moisture is down a fair way, because all of the roots from wheat will use the top 30cm.

“We had a pretty tight finish, it didn’t rain much in August so the crops were pretty busy extracting every bit of water they could.

“It would be interesting to dig a hole and see what it’s like.”

Kapari Angus stud principals Tony and Liz Sudlow, of Northampton.
Camera IconKapari Angus stud principals Tony and Liz Sudlow, of Northampton. Credit: Bob Garnant/Countryman

Northampton shire president and Kapari Angus stud co-principal Liz Sudlow said the “unseasonally hot” week was a good excuse to spend time inside getting office work done ahead of their bull sale.

“It certainly impacts what you can do as there’s a harvest ban... so you can’t really operate any machines,” she said. “You have to be strategic and plan to be out early or at night time.”

After the Mid West town was left without power during a heatwave over the extremely warm Christmas period, she said the past week’s weather had been a “bit of a test” about Western Power’s latest measures to prevent outages in the region.

Much to the town’s relief, it stayed on, she said.

A photo of an electronic noticeboard in town sparked a flurry of interest last week when the thermometer read 51C, but Mrs Sudlow said it was out by a few degrees.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails