Southern Tablelands graziers brace for dry season

INSIGHT: Bannister grazier John Klem discusses soil moisture results with executive officer for Tablelands Farming Systems, Tracy Watson. Photo: Bronwyn Haynes.
INSIGHT: Bannister grazier John Klem discusses soil moisture results with executive officer for Tablelands Farming Systems, Tracy Watson. Photo: Bronwyn Haynes.

Rain will be critical in coming weeks as the district dries out and another fire season looms.

Data compiled by Local Land Services (LLS) and Tablelands Farming Systems shows some parts of the district, around Crookwell and Taralga, are faring better than others, like Gunning, Lake Bathurst and Bigga.

Goulburn has registered just 280mm for the year, 160mm less than the same time last year, according to Weatherzone. The 46-year average annual rainfall is 627.8mm, the Bureau of Meteorology states. In contrast, Taralga has received a healthy 493mm.

“It has certainly dried off,” LLS Goulburn manager Aaron Smith said of part of the region.

“We had a significant run of frosts and lower than average rainfall during winter and that has combined with the wind. Crops around the area are looking for a drink to produce fodder and other crops.”

Mr Smith said rain in the coming few months would be vital. Nevertheless stock were still in fair condition due to the reasonable feed on hand coming into winter. This boiled down to good management.

Through a series of ground probes inserted around the district, LLS and Tablelands Farming Systems (TFS) have been gaining insight into soil moisture, temperatures and growing conditions, enabling farmers and graziers to plan ahead.

The probes, delving one metre, have been installed at Braidwood, Lake Bathurst, Bannister, Bigga, Boorowa, Gunning, Laggan, Rugby, Taralga and Wheeo properties. Some were inserted in February, 2016 and others in August, 2016.

TFS chair John Klem hosts one at his Bannister property, 10km from Crookwell, where he runs vealers and fat lambs.

Equipped with his laptop or iPad he can go to the probe in his paddock and tap into data.

“Around here there’s pretty good soil moisture and the (soil) temperature is going up. With my laptop I can link in with Bureau of Meteorology records going back 56 years to tell me what’s likely to happen at this time of year,” Mr Klem said. 

“It tells me how much feed (kg/dry matter) I’ll have available,” Mr Klem said. 

Mr Klem said as the data was science-based it took much of the guesswork out of planning.

Tablelands Farming Systems and LLS will reveal the probes’ data and the seasonal outlook at a function at the Old Coach House Stables, Gunning on Friday from 10am to 2pm.

It shows that Lake Bathurst, Bigga and Wheeo are doing it tougher, with the looming need for supplementary feed.

“Taralga will get more. It’s looking terrific,” Mr Klem said.

LLS livestock officer Matthew Lieschke told The Post that Crookwell, Bannister and Taralga had better soil moisture than other areas and therefore more of a buffer against the season ahead.

“Because we’ve had such a dry winter there’s not much subsoil moisture. In the top 40 to 60cm it’s okay but there’s not much beyond. Over the half way mark, generally the sites are showing that soil moisture is becoming a big issue,” he said.

“...Last year we had a full moisture profile but this year we’re at a point where we desperately need rain to kick the spring off...By Saturday it will be 26 degrees and there are two things we don’t need, hot and windy days.”

Fire conditions ‘ripe’

Meantime, NSW Rural Fire Service Southern Tablelands zone operational manager Daniel Osborne said below average rainfall and above average temperatures, coupled with intense frosts, had resulted in fuel drying out far more rapidly.

“The outlook through to November is indicating that it will be very unlikely that the Southern Tablelands will receive above average rainfall. The grassland curing index is currently sitting at 68 per cent, which is not generally experienced until late November and into December,” he said.

Curing can increase dead grassland material and decrease grass moisture, resulting in quicker fire spread.

NSW RFS, NSW National Parks, Crown Lands and NSW Forestry Corporation will continue to enforce bush and grass fire mitigation treatments, fire trail maintenance and asset protection zone work.

“In recent weeks we have seen a number of fires take hold quite quickly, some with little warning,” Mr Osborne said.

“Our volunteers have also be very busy ensuring they and their equipment are ready to go.”

The Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre has identified an ‘above normal’ rating for the eastern forested areas of the state, including parts of the Southern Tablelands.

All it will take is a relatively short period of dry, windy weather for there to be problems,  Mr Osborne warned, encouraging homeowners and landholders to start preparing now.

The NSW RFS recently organised a public “Get Ready Weekend’ session, with more planned in October and November.

“NSW Rural Fire Service will continue to what we can to mitigate the impact of fires on the community, however there should be no doubt that it is essential for land holders to do their bit to prepare and protect their family and property in the event of a fire,” he said.

For more information, head to the NSW RFS website or call the Southern Tablelands office on 6226 3100.

Residents can also monitor fire updates on the Fires Near Me website or app. The Bush Fire Danger Period will begin on October 1.