TRYING TIMES: Allan Sorley has bore the brunt of floods and drought, with no signs of the disaster relenting.
TRYING TIMES: Allan Sorley has bore the brunt of floods and drought, with no signs of the disaster relenting.

Crops drown, fences damaged in ‘drought-breaking rain’

SHEER relief of seeing rain clouds rolling over grain farmer Doug Harrison's Jandowae and Warra farms soon turned to horror as "drought-breaking" rain lashed the 61-year-old's property, causing up to $20,000 worth of damage and drowning 120ha of crops.

The damp ground and luscious green paddocks are a farcry from last year's drought conditions where Bell farmer Allan Sorley, 79, spent $100,000 last year to keep his cattle alive.

The rain that fell should have been a relief after nearly a decade of harsh, unrelenting drought.

But what Mr Sorley received was "severe" damage to his property and lost crops.

"We had 300mm at the foot of the Bunyas, we didn't actually get the rain here but … we suffered major damage," Mr Sorley said.

"We lost a lot of top soil on the cultivation and a lot of fencing damage."

Crops destroyed, infrastructure damaged

When the rain first arrived, Mr Sorley said he was relieved to see water hitting his dry and barren property.

"Since it started we've had around 400mm but the rain that we've had has been good rain," he said.

"We received 139mm during one night here and it didn't do any damage at all."Ten to 15 per cent of Mr Sorley's freshly planted crops were drowned at his Bell property, among thousands of dollars' worth of damage done to infrastructure on the farm, including 200-300m of fencing wiped out in the floods.

"It's going to take months, unless I employ people to help with the fencing, and then the farming has been put right back," he said.

"It won't be easy to fix by any matter of means."

Mr Harrison's properties received eight inches of rain in 2019.

In three weeks in 2020 his property received double that, enough to destroy a $19,000 levy bank that was built on his property in 2013 to prevent future flood damage.

"When I was told about the flooding in Jandowae that morning, I was very worried about my farm up here," he said.

"With the water spreading as far as the eye could see, I went up along the road and it didn't look too bad where the main road crossed it."

But during the floods and through the course of the drought, the levy bank deteriorated.

"While I was spraying, I noticed it's blown out the bank and deposited a hell of a lot of silt," he said.

"On the creek crossing, the strength of the flood blew away both sides of the creek bank and made a mess of my land."

It was a combination of too much water and the dryness of the drought that destroyed the levy bank, leaving Mr Harrison almost $20,000 out of pocket.

"It had been working so well but because it was so dry, the levy bank obviously had aeration and cracks and the water soon leaked through," he said.

"When the volume and pace of it leaned up against it, it all just worked its way through and literally blew the banks apart."

Mr Harrison had 120ha of freshly planted mung beans drown in the floods - another unsuccessful yield after years of crops failing in the drought.

"I was going to plant about 270ha of mung beans but I probably only got 150ha," he said.

"I had 80ha of them drown. I went back and planted about 40ha and that was drowned too.

"We've got to take the losses, I guess. After it being dry for so many years and praying for rain, typical at the end of the drought is floods.

"It's just sent too much pressure down - it had nowhere to go but to take the levy bank out."

First the drought, now the floods

Mr Sorley has lived on the land his whole life and owned his property in Bell since the 1970s. He bought his very first property in 1958.

But the severity of the damage on his property is some of the worst he has seen.

"We had 11 inches back in the early 1980s and it didn't do anywhere near the amount of damage that this one has done," Mr Sorley said.

Prior to the floods, Mr Harrison was just one farmer that suffered dismal yield after dismal yield during an unrelenting, decade-long drought.

"We had three or four years that were pretty hard, with one or two average crops in between," he said.

"They'd get off to a relatively quick start. Then they'd fall over and we just couldn't pick up.

"With the winter crops it was the same thing - the yield there was very low."

 

CONTRIBUTED: Allan Sorley's property in the midst of the drought.
CONTRIBUTED: Allan Sorley's property in the midst of the drought.

 

Mr Harrison planted barley last year and had to dig it up after it didn't yield - something he had never had to do.

He's now relying on crops he planted late in the season to provide some substance but even that poses several risks.

"We've only had one out of six (crops) that got us going again," he said.

"We're just hoping now that the few beans I've got in now might bring us something. "

Mr Sorley faced a similar fate but was one of the lucky few that didn't lose any cattle. He was forced to destock.

 

DRY TIMES: Allan Sorley's property in the midst of the drought.
DRY TIMES: Allan Sorley's property in the midst of the drought.

 

Why they do what they do

Mr Sorley isn't a stranger to the trials and tribulations of life on the land, having lived this way his entire life.

But these trials aren't enough for him to give up his livelihood.

"I've been through droughts before," he said.

"If I was young I'd feel defeated but at this day and age in life I've been there, done that and tomorrow will be better.

"It'll take a major amount to do something like that in life now."

Mr Harrison is the last person left in his family to take care of his properties.

Letting the work get too much and the drought become too discouraging is not an option for him.

"You take the good with the bad, you have your whinges and carry on," he said.

"I sometimes wonder about it - it's very stressful.

"You go to bed at night and your brain is always active.

"When we farmers put the head on the pillow we've always got worries about the land or the tractor or something.

"It is a stressful life but someone has to do it and I chose to be one of those guys."