Drain on salt brings back crops

Photo of Narembeen grower John Hall

Narembeen grower John Hall credits an extensive system of drains for his ability to crop 7500 hectares this year on his property which borders the Wakeman subcatchment, about 280 kilometres east of Perth.

[Photo (left) by Susan Hall: Narembeen grower John Hall credits an extensive system of drains for his ability to crop 7500 hectares this year.]

He believes a system of drains now running through the Narembeen Shire has allowed many growers to maintain cropping programs that were otherwise facing serious decline because of salinity.

By the 1990s, Mr Hall realised a major effort was needed to save the district"s cropping potential, and he approached the Kondinin Group for information about drains. He was encouraged by drainage projects elsewhere in WA, and in Holland, Israel, England and Pakistan.

Mr Hall began digging his homefarm drains in 1995 and now has about 35 kilometres of drains installed.

He says that after digging the first drains, improvements to the surrounding soil were noticeable within weeks as it began to dry out.

"Ten years later the surrounds are still improving, kilometres away, including land in neighbouring properties," he says. "We also found it was possible to fast-track improvements (on recovered land) by deepripping or soil-profile sampling and then ameliorating with lime and gypsum."

A measure of the transformation is the property the Hall family sold in 1976: "Previously our most productive farm, it began going saline in the 60s, and by 1976 was battling to produce 0.8 tonnes per hectare," Mr Hall says. "We bought back the farm in 1989 and experimented with various salinity solutions.

"Since the drains have been in we now easily yield two to three tonnes per hectare of wheat or barley off paddocks that had previously gone to salt."

Mr Hall says drainage is the beginning of the restoration process, and between 2000 and 3000 hectares have now been reclaimed. He says that as the harvested water becomes less saline, he is hoping to find productive uses for it.

"It is gratifying seeing not only crops being grown on land that hasn"t been used for 40 years, but also native flora and fauna reappearing," he says.

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For more information: John hall, john@halldamara.com.au