Drought, What Drought?

Having just dripped and squelched our way through the wettest July in years, it feels counter-intuitive to be talking about drought. But it’s important to remember that drought is a constant concern for farmers — one wet season doesn’t signal the end. In fact, now’s the perfect time to plan ahead. And that’s where the Farmers Helping Farmers project comes in. 

 In a joint project, South Coast NRM together with the Gillamii Centre and the Ravensthorpe Agricultural Initiative Network (RAIN) are working to deliver the Farmers Helping Farmers project over the next 12 months. The project will help farmers to maximise soil moisture and production in times of drought.  

 The perfect storm 

 After many years in water deficiency, the South Coast of WA has been inundated this winter. But that doesn’t mean farmers and communities will forget about more recent devastation of drought. Drought brings with it reduced farm productivity and financial hardship, but also results in a significant social and emotional toll which burdens rural and regional families and communities1.    

 Thanks to the Australian Government’s Future Drought FundFarmers Helping Farmers focuses on facilitating peer-to-peer skill and knowledge sharing among land managers. Workshops, Q&A sessions, and on-ground demonstrations will give farmers access to evidence-based best practice in sustainable agriculture, drought preparation, and community Landcare.    

 Building knowledge 

 When communities are impacted by drought, it’s important to come together. Local demonstration sites across the central South Coast region will be established giving land managers a platform to share drought preparation strategies that may help address the changes in rainfall.  

 A series of workshops and field walks will help communities create shovel-ready projects for future drought preparedness, mitigation and management.  

 The project kicked off in May 2021 with an early focus on planning, guided by a dedicated Technical Advisory Committee. At the local level, The Gillamii Centre and RAIN have held Q&A sessions with farmers to identify the following priorities for the project: 

  • Strategies for water storage (Dam design, the effects of temperature and wind)  
  • Desalination: Methods, outcomes, legality 
  • Re-framing broad acre farming: Assessing the value and best use of water 
  • Mitigation of the negative impacts of drought: Best practices to protect yourself 

 Harvesting water knowledge now for the next drought 

When it comes to drought, knowledge isn’t enough. Knowledge, when shared in an inclusive, accessible way, helps build the community links and capacity to endure future droughts. And that’s what Farmers Helping Farmers (and the Future Drought Fund) are all about. 

 “We know our growers have experienced a tough few years, with 2021 throwing a different set of water-logged challenges at them. But as Richard George of DPIRD quoted recently, ‘it is a good time for drought planning’ ” says Gillamii NRM Officer, Cassie Dressler.  

The Farmers Helping Farmers project was kickstarted at a successful event held by The Gillamii Centre recently; De-mystify Desalination. The field walk and information session was held in Cranbrook with speakers including Richard George (DPIRD), Wendell Ela (Murdoch University) and Paul Calneggia (Novatron Water Treatment Leaders) who fielded many questions about the ins and outs of desalination from an industry perspective. “We saw a working (desalinisation) plant in action and heard about the well-funded research going on in the background to support technological development and better decision making at an individual farm level. The take-home message was to assess existing water infrastructure to maximise catchment and retention but when that capacity or inhibitive costs are an issue then desal might be right for your business. Particularly as there is a large amount of untapped brackish to saline water reserves in our agricultural regions,” said Cassie.  

The next event planned as part of the Farmers Helping Farmers project is Damned Dams which will be hosted by RAIN in Ravensthorpe on Tuesday, 31st August 2021. This event will focus on effective and efficient dam and catchment design as well as red ground dams, dam management and repairs, dam liners and salinity. For more information contact RAIN on 0417 174 299.  

 Another exciting opportunity made available through the Farmers Helping Farmers project is the recently announced Farm Planning; Drought Mitigation and Water Management, which will be hosted by the Gillamii Centre on 21st, 22nd September. Facilitated by RCS Australia, the two-day structured learning program and follow up one-to-ones will create drought mitigation plans with a focus on realistic and practical actions. Registrations are open now. For more information, contact Gillamii Centre on 9826 1234.  

 Get involved 

 Project Officers Cassie Dressler (Gillamii Centre) and Elisa Spengler (RAIN) are developing workshops and demonstration sites in consultation with land managers in the Cranbook, Tambellup and Ravensthorpe regions.  

 If you’d like to know more about upcoming events, why not subscribe to our eNews? It’s a great way to learn about this and other South Coast NRM projects.  

  This project is supported by South Coast NRM, through funding from the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund.