Paddocks blown away
Former GRDC Southern Panel member Richard Konzag, who farms at Mallala, South Australia, said the fires that ravaged the Lower North farming community were the worst he had ever experienced.
While Richard’s house, sheds and most crops were spared by a change in wind direction, 700 hectares of his farm were burnt including 230ha of wheat, beans and straw, augers, a tubulator and silo bags.
When we spoke to Richard in the aftermath of the fire – while he was coordinating hay donations for livestock producers – he described the situation: “The size and ferocity of this fire was like nothing I’d ever seen. It has devastated the local community. From a farming perspective, homes, sheds and machinery are burnt; fences are gone; livestock were killed or had to be euthanased; many growers have lost unharvested crops as well as the straw they would have baled.”
It was already a season of extremes before the fires. Rain in July and August promised a good season, but five frosts in six days in October, followed immediately by three days over 35ºC, undercut quality. Just three weeks before the fires, Mallala received
26 millimetres of rain, which further eroded grain quality. Richard said many growers were already under a lot of stress from worrying about variable quality before the fire.
There is also a long road ahead, with extreme winds in the weeks following the fire creating dust storms and eroding paddocks.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch your paddock blow away in front of your eyes,” Richard said.
“I am worried about people’s mental wellbeing during and after the clean-up as they start to rebuild and replace infrastructure and equipment. From an agronomic perspective, soil management will be critical as will considerations around changing rotations in response to the impact of the fire on different soil types.”
Lost seed is another challenge, and seed registries such as Seed Rescue SA have been established to connect growers who need replacement seed with growers who have seed to donate or sell.