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West Australian farmers struggle as deluge inundates sodden crops, drowns livestock

By Angus Mackintosh and Jessica Hayes, Tuesday June 22, 2021 - 08:52 EST
ABC image
The Ayres family saved 20 sheep from floodwaters on Monday morning by pulling them into their tinnie. - ABC

Significant rains flooded farmland on the south coast this week, killing livestock and potentially drowning crops.

Sunday night marked the latest and most extreme of months of high rainfall events across the south of Western Australia.

Albany farmers Chris and Justine Ayres estimate 150 of their sheep, mostly pregnant ewes, were drowned in waist-high floodwaters.

"I don't think they stood much of a chance," Mr Ayres said.

"It was pretty extreme ? there was a 95 kph [wind] gust at one stage.

"Some were found clinging to trees, others huddled in groups [or] afloat on a bank," Ms Ayres said.

"It's absolutely heartbreaking to see them trying to swim to higher ground and drown on the way."

Strawberries submerged

A strawberry farm five kilometres north of Albany was hit particularly hard by flooding.

Over a metre of sand was dumped over portions of Handasyde Farm and its workers' accommodation was swamped by ankle-deep mud, according to farmhand Darren Godbold.

"Devastation, I suppose you could call it," Mr Godbold said during the clean-up.

"Some of the trenches would definitely be a metre or more deep."

Crops drowned

The Grains Industry Association of WA (GIWA) described the state's grain season as "near perfect" in a report released on June 11, but acknowledged that water-logging was already becoming an issue for many of its southern growers.

GIWA Oilseeds Council chair, Mark Lamond, prepares the monthly reports.

"[This rainfall has] increased in the area that's been affected," he said.

"The water-logging is now right through the west Albany port zone, the Great Southern, the Stirlings ? all the way up to the Great Eastern Highway in some areas."

Waterlogged ground cannot be reseeded until it dries out nor can it be fertilised until the water subsides.

"The average yield per paddock will be down ? it could be 10 to 20 per cent [across the region]," Mr Lamond said.

"In the really severely impacted areas, there will be no recovery of the crop."

The extent and cost of the damage is yet to be formally assessed by GIWA or insurers, and will depend on whether rainfall continues to oversaturate soils.

"[If rains stop] they can recover a fair bit," Mr Lamond said.

"But anything that is underwater for a reasonable amount of time ? you've lost it."


© ABC 2021

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