Fire can have significant immediate and longer-term impacts for Australian grain growers in terms of their enterprises, soils, infrastructure, assets and animals.
It also affects personal health and wellbeing - and that of their families and local communities.
The fires that have ravaged many parts of rural Australia in recent times have demonstrated the scale of loss and damage that can be incurred.
GRDC recognises that recovery from fire for primary producers is not easy, and ongoing support and sound advice is critical.
To assist, GRDC has developed a fire web-based resource which provides easy access to information about a range of issues, including:
- managing soils;
- post-fire planning and decision-making;
- mental and physical health; and
- fire planning, preparation and prevention.
It includes case studies and learnings from those growers who have previously experienced the devastating impacts of fire - and details their recovery journey to support and encourage others in their time of need.
The page has links to relevant broader agricultural industry resources that may also be valuable for fire-affected growers. Some of the topics included on the hub are outlined below.
Fire recovery - tips from a grower's experience
Growers impacted by the Yorketown fire, on South Australia's lower Yorke Peninsula, in November 2019 can get some tips and learn from the experiences of those affected by the Pinery fire in that State in 2015.
In this article, Owen grower Ben Marshman, Hamley Bridge grower Adrian McCabe and Elders agronomist Michael Brougham each share their learnings following the 2015 fire, which decimated some of the best grain growing land in SA.
The Pinery fire burnt an estimated 85,700 hectares of crops and grassland across the state's Lower North region.
The Marshman's property had more than 1400ha burnt and it destroyed infrastructure, including fences and sheds.
Ben, who farms with wife Bess and their four young children, shares a list of priorities he would manage differently if his property was ever affected by fire again.This includes:
- immediate environment surrounding the house;
- the house itself;
- drift control for the remainder of the property; and
- seeding implications.
Managing bare soils following a fire
In this article, experts answer questions about how growers can manage their land following fire.
There are tips for dealing with bare soils and future crop rotations, including some of the pros and cons of:
- cultivating to stop wind erosion;
- clay spreading or delving on sandy soils;
- protecting dwellings from sand drift; and
- sowing a cover crop to reduce risks of drift.
Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA) soil and land management consultant David Woodard says growers who have undertaken "emergency tillage" have been cultivating just deep enough to bring up clods of clay to cover the furrow.
"For many growers, particularly the ones who have already had sand drift, it's very hard to sit there and do nothing," he says.
"In very shallow sands over clay it may be possible to bring up sufficient clay clods to hold the topsoil."
Soil monitoring important following fire
While some plant pathogens may be reduced following extreme fire events, growers affected by fire are urged to monitor nutrient levels and soilborne disease pathogens ahead of 2020 sowing programs.
Fire removes carbon and nutrients from crop residues - the food source for microbes - which reduces microbial activity in the soil.
CSIRO principal research scientist Dr Gupta Vadakattu says 50 per cent of microbial populations in soil are found in the top five centimetres.
If the heat from the fire is strong enough to reach that depth, then it would reduce microbial populations and weaken the microbial or natural buffer against disease, he says.
"Following a fire, the risk of disease from stubble-borne pathogens such as Fusarium and Take-all, as well as other leaf diseases, will be reduced," he says.
"Depending on the intensity of the burn, the effects on soil-borne pathogens - such as Rhizoctonia and nematodes - may be limited. If the microbial buffer is weakened, it will take less pathogen inoculum to cause more impact."
Reduced microbial populations will also have an effect on nutrient availability for following crops.
Dr Vadakattu says cultivation may be necessary for many fire-affected growers with sandy soils to bring clay to the surface and reduce drift, but this - along with the lack of stubble - will accelerate nutrient mineralisation in the soil and increase the potential for leaching with heavy rain.
Growers focus on protecting cropping soils after fire
Grain growers in SA's fire-ravaged Lower North cropping region in 2015 were advised to develop and implement tailored and collaborative erosion control strategies based on soil type and drift susceptibility. This article explores some of their experiences.
Minimising topsoil loss is a priority for growers in this region and Ardrossan-based agronomist Bill Long says, in the immediate term, farmers will need to manage this issue to the best of their ability.
He says they will need to observe what's happening on their properties, share those observations with their neighbours and act if necessary.
"Growers and their advisers will also need to think about this season's cropping programs - and those beyond," he says.
"What they do now and over the coming months will have implications for their farming systems in the longer-term."