In April and May, we were using the very last of our dam water in a desperate attempt to get grass out of the ground. Two weeks ago, we had floods and the cows missed two milkings, trapped on the flats despite valiant attempts to bring them home.
Then, just last week, we had snow.
We even went up to the nearby hills so five-year-old Alex could see snow for the first time.
It’s been a crazy year so far but I refuse to be cowed by mud.
I’m celebrating the recharging of our dam for summer. It got very, very low but now is back.
I’m also celebrating the snatch of spring we felt between the floods and the snow. With it came the magic of balloonists and their silks drifting across the river flats.
Most of all, it’s bringing the hope of a good season when we need it so desperately. We cannot afford to buy in hundreds of tonnes of hay again this year. A failed season like last year would spell disaster in the jaws of a crushingly low milk price. To survive, we need to grow more grass than ever.
Landgate’s Pastures from Space tool confirms it’s been a difficult start to the year, with pasture growth rates actually even worse than last year’s failure. The thick red line represents an average year, the blue one is last year and the black one is the year to date.
The outcome is even more stark when you look at the cumulative amount of feed grown. Again, red is average, blue is last year and black is this year. Last year the farm grew half the amount of grass it grows in an average year and this year sits below even that low water mark – so far.
As you can see from the two charts, things need to get better, fast. I’m really optimistic that we are seeing a turnaround.
Up until now, the rain we’ve had has been simply replenishing the parched subsoil rather than growing much grass. It needs to happen because unless the subsoil is moist, the root zone dries out in the warmth of Spring as soon as there’s any halt in rainfall.
So, how is the soil moisture looking? Check out these Australian Landscape Water Balance charts. The first one shows just how recently the soil moisture in the root zone has returned to normal. This means that, finally, the grass can grow if there’s enough sun, nutrients and warmth.
The good news is that while the subsoil is not as wet as the root zone, it’s returned to about average. The one to watch still is the deep soil moisture, which as you can see from the chart below, still has a way to go.
Mother Nature may be behaving like a drunk but, while it’s raining, I’m not complaining.