Rain turns season around at Dunn Rock

Rain turns season around at Dunn Rock

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 Dunn Rock farmer Chris Walker in his property's main dam which was almost empty after three years of dry seasonal conditions, until a fortnight ago when rain began to replenish it.

Dunn Rock farmer Chris Walker in his property's main dam which was almost empty after three years of dry seasonal conditions, until a fortnight ago when rain began to replenish it.

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His main dam, which supplies the house, was almost dry until recently.

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RAIN has made all the difference at Dunn Rock, south Newdegate, for mixed farmer Chris Walker.

Over the past three years he has received less than the 350 millimetres average rainfall for the area, at just 220mm per year.

This caused most of the dams across the 4000 hectare property to dry up, forcing Mr Walker, like many others to cart water last year and this year.

Fortunately the area was declared water deficient by the State government and he was able to access water for his SAMM sheep flock from nearby supplies.

The government recently stopped carting water to the local tanks for farmers after it rained.

While there was an additional workload added by having to cart water for the past 18 months, Mr Walker was happy to do it if it meant his sheep would be in top condition to fetch $180 a head.

He said his father, who still resides on the farm, having previously had an earth moving business, was able to use his machinery to dig out catchments to ensure when it rained the maximum amount of run-off would be directed into the dams.

They also cleaned out all but four of the 30-odd dams in preparation for the rain.

Up until recently Mr Walker had received 180mm and recent fronts delivered a further 40mm.

His main dam, which supplies the house and gardens, was almost dry until about a month ago.

In the past 10 years the Walkers have survived a small but powerful tornado-like event which damaged the sheds and silos and threatened lives, a flood on the low-lying paddocks, severe wind damage to a paddock, a drought and "a significant hail event that wiped out 65pc of our crop".

Mr Walker in his Planet barley crop, which he said was looking really good and he hoped would come through with an average or better tonne per hectare after applying some more nitrogen to make the most of the rain fronts.

Mr Walker in his Planet barley crop, which he said was looking really good and he hoped would come through with an average or better tonne per hectare after applying some more nitrogen to make the most of the rain fronts.

Despite that Mr Walker said, "we are still here and making the most of it".

But the years of dry seasonal conditions have taken a toll.

Mr Walker said he was on a knife's edge - whether he would be able to continue running his roughly 1800 head sheep flock - if he hadn't received the rain.

"We contemplated destocking and I can understand why some have," Mr Walker said.

"But the thought of just cropping would mean there's added risk.

"The sheep reduce the risk of losses in a bad cropping year and at the moment the prices are so good that we are happy that we kept them."

Mr Walker said his focus was on producing quality sheep meat, with wool as a bonus.

He said the SAMM breed had a large frame and carcase weight which was a bonus when processing.

Mr Walker likes to support local co-operatives such as WAMMCO with his sheep meat and CBH with grain.

He said WA producers had benefited from CBH over the years and said he supported it remaining a co-operative rather than being turned into a corporation.

The 4000ha size of the farm means that he can enjoy the country lifestyle while working the land, but said if he had an extra 2000ha it could be a lot more profitable.

Mr Walker with a pet ewe, which has been running with the rams and not surprisingly produced a lamb.

Mr Walker with a pet ewe, which has been running with the rams and not surprisingly produced a lamb.

The problem is the farm borders the Dunn Rock Nature Reserve on two sides and any other available land for sale is quite a distance away.

There were also few if any small farms left in the area after mergers and acquisitions - particularly with the increase in the number of corporate entities.

Mr Walker would also have to employ someone full-time if the farm was any bigger just to keep up with the workload.

At the moment they can cope on their own with some help during seeding and harvest.

Mr Walker, who previously was an agribusiness banker and currently runs his own consultancy business, said he understood the benefits of the corporate farm but it was sad to see the smaller family farms lost.

"I have a good working relationship with corporates with my consultancy business and I am conscious of the advantages they bring to agriculture," he said.

"Once the farms are sold or merged with other properties, it's harder for someone younger and wanting to start out in farming to acquire a property they can afford."

Mr Walker likes the Dunn Rock area - which has just a handful of farmers left - and said he had about 15 years remaining on the farm before he would consider selling up.

Like many other farmers his children are not interested in living a life on the land.

Mr Walker said there were three main issues that were affecting farmers - water, labour and farm succession.

He said while farmers couldn't make it rain, they could do a lot more to capture the water and utilise it better.

"It's hard to get labour out here," Mr Walker said.

"Backpackers can be helpful but they also need to know what they are doing when they are in control of expensive equipment.

"If you are not careful who you get, it can end up costing you time and money."

Mr Walker said the issue of farm succession was something that needed to be discussed openly within families so everyone knew what was happening and there were no surprises and unfair decisions made.

With the reserve next door there was the constant issue of kangaroos and foxes making their way onto the property, despite a baiting program to reduce numbers.

Mr Walker said one year there was a white kangaroo in the area which drew a lot of attention when people found out, as they were a rare sight.

This year his cropping program consists of wheat, barley, lupins, canola and oats.

They have been struggling with the yield in the lupins which will be used for livestock feed.

Mr Walker also runs his sheep on serradella pastures, which provides an added nitrogen bonus to the soil for the next crop to benefit from.

On the back of recent rains the crops are on track for an average harvest.

Mr Walker said he averaged 1.8 tonnes per hectare across all crops and he was expecting a better result this year "if we can dodge the frosts".

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