My Favourite River Height Indicator

Dec 2010
Feb 2011
March 2011

I’m a little annoyed with myself for not venturing there in January.

Arguably to the most useless BBQ along the Murray



6 thoughts on “My Favourite River Height Indicator

  1. The river!
    We went up to Berri and back yesterday (long, boring family story) but what a thing to see. I realise all those poor sods in Q’land and Vic had to suffer terribly for this, but it’s absolutely marvelous to see the river so high and all those river flats and ‘little’ wetland areas brimming with water. My niece’s children tell me that schoolfriends go off yabbying after school. And the tradies working in the street often nick off down to the river at lunchtime to check their pots.

    But driving back – at the end of summer – and everything was GREEN! Unbelievable. And as we approached the other side of the Hills, there were streams of mist rising from the trees. Normally at this dryyy time of the year you’d be worried about those being wisps of smoke, but it was just more and more water. And it was raining again.

    I’m beginning to think that this could be a fantastic year for grain crops. There’s enough water in the soil already to carry a crop to maturity. If the switch out of the La Nina happens on time, the second half of the growing season will be warm and dry. Perfect maturing conditions and no nasty rusts or other fungi. (But it could be a bumper locust year as well I suppose.)

    It won’t happen like this, but there’s room for real optimism for many farmers.


    1. Tell me about it! I’ve been making the Riverland trip as a monthly ritual since taking this position (a year and a half now) and I have to say that past few months are a complete transformation. Down at Martin’s Bend just outside of Berri (where the deck is), last month I could’ve lived their – the river had been flushed, the water was clear and the air was humid and fresh. It’s great seeing the region so full of life. The lower lakes are enjoying it too.

      It’s good to see and the hear the locals enjoying life on the river again.

      As for the farmers, I’m not entirely confident. The new Murray Darling Plan (which will still be needed – as this, as you know, is only temporary) made such a stir and the farmers have been changing their crops time and time again. On either side of the road, you have two fields at completely different stages of maturity and on plots that had fruit trees ripped out a year ago, there are now new young trees. Vine yards too are a real mess (and the market is saturated of many varieties). I hope you had a change to pick up some produce in the region though – cheap of wonderfully fresh! I suspect the agricultural practices of the region will be a bit of a jumble over the coming decade, but long term they will develop more sustainability and we’ll end up with a new and more resilient Riverland. I’m very hopeful and I really get a kick out of how great the region looks!

      My site got another ~50mm of rain over night (glad I’m not going there this week!) which would place the rainfall over 400mm for the past 4 months – truly amazing!


  2. Changing crops? We did notice a couple of olive plantations, nowhere near as many as are starting up north, but still a vast improvement on relying on too many citrus. This year is probably the best opportunity for establishing newer orchards. I would have thought pistachios, as well as olives, would be a good prospect for much of that former citrus/grape area.

    We came back through Karoonda and the grain stubble had patches of green in places. But with the stubble there, all that lovely rainfall will penetrate further into the soils.

    And Adelaide has now had double the March average rainfall with 4 more days of rain predicted! Yes! (But the weeds in my garden are turning into Triffids – they just might take over the world, or at least a couple of suburbs.)


    1. lol – my garden is rallying up the troops too!
      I’m a little two-minded on olive. It’s a terrible weed in SA. That said, it’s also an excellent crop. I’d like to see most of the vine yards pulled up for something more important than simply booze. And I agree – it’s good to see the move away from citrus (even the big orange is closed!).
      This La Nina has transformed the MDB (for the short term) and I totally agree that it would be a wise time to shift practices while the going is good. However, debt is high and most people are stubborn.


  3. Not so sure about the weedy olive. It only became a weed because people didn’t harvest the crop for several decades – and then didn’t harvest or remove the resulting trees. Of course the Adelaide region now has the =only= genetically diverse resource of wild olives in the world. (A bit like the Australian desert having the only genetically diverse camels in the world.)

    If the olives are commercially grown and properly harvested – and any escapes are killed or uprooted, I don’t see they’ll be too bad. I’m sure Landcare groups in the Mallee and the mid North, southern Flinders will keep an eagle eye out. The only major issue will be if someone goes broke or otherwise leaves a whole orchard to go wild.

    As for stubborn. Anyone who can add up should be able to work out that they can plant a dry tolerant orchard, sell part or all of a water entitlement to pay for some or all of it, and come out the other side with an income producing asset that doesn’t rely on water they often can’t access anyway. After all, paying your water license fees doesn’t give you any water that’s not available in a given year.

    Me? I wouldn’t plant just the trees. I’d interplant deep-rooted perennial lucerne or the like in the avenues between the trees – just like a lot of vineyards in the Clare Valley, though some of them use annuals. They also will establish well in this favourable year. Slashing a few times a year will build up the soil’s fertility and water holding capacity during the initial establishment years as well as suppressing weeds.

    Once cropping starts, slashing will maintain the quality of the soil and replenish the nutrients removed by the crop. And all of this reduces the need for fertilisers – though maybe not for mineral amendments at the outset. Soils with specific inadequacies may need topping up with minerals a couple more times if the perennial ground cover doesn’t recycle it adequately. Though most of these things are pretty good at extracting and concentrating and bringing to the surface minerals which occur a bit too thinly, a bit too deeply in a particular location.


    1. Olive was highlighted in my course as a particularly noxious invasive species with very high dispersal (via the guts of birds) and habitat impact; so much so it’s listed on the National Weeds Strategy website (although not, as far as I’m aware, a weed of national significance). The Mt Lofty region is prolific with wild olive – one of my lecturers was single minded about olive removal, even making the news for his initiative (something that, when you look at the industry, urban occurrence and the dispersal, I feel is entirely futile).

      It is a real tragedy that, like the camel, Australia has became the final “natural” refuge of the species…

      I’d like to see more native food produce – for instance when on the limestone coast, I saw Muntries growing like vineyards – a food supply (as opposed to wine) that requires far less water and has evolved to the region, with minimal disruption to farming practice. Lucerne is a great move and you can never go wrong with legumes as far as I’m concerned (even more so when nitrogen fertiliser becomes more difficult – something I think will be great as it will reduce nitrogen pollution). Keeping land cover is important for soil health and water retention (being mindful of evapotranspiration).


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