The month of January, 1878, will be long remembered by the farming community as a period of heat and drought scarcely ever known or experienced in this colony before.
On Thursday, the 10th inst., the heat was most intense, the thermometer registering 123° in the shade, and 158° in the sun. The weather still continues extremely hot and dry. The absence of rain is causing great anxiety among all classes of the community. Sheep and cattle are almost famishing for want of feed and water.
In the back parishes tanks, dams, and reservoirs are nearly all dry, and water for domestic use has to be carted long distances. Well-sinking has only proved successful within a distance of five or six miles from the Murray River. Several wells have been sunk in the neighbourhood of Hill Plain, and they either obtained brackish water at about 100 feet in depth, or bottomed on solid rock. The threshing machines are all busily at work, and the returns in most cases are hardly up to expectations.
The average yield of wheat, so far as I have been able to learn, is about from 10 to 12 bushels per acre; the quality of the grain, though good, is not equal to that of last year. Of oats and barley the average is not large, and the yield from 15 to 18 bushels. Maize and sorghum, together with all root crops, have been an entire failure this season. Fruit trees, vines, &c., in the gardens, where not attended to by watering, have succumbed to the severity of the drought.
Unless on the banks of the river scarcely any effort has been made to grow vegetables. The River Murray is so low at present that it can be waded through in several places to the opposite side by school boys. Sheep farming is not carried on to any very great extent in this district ; the area of 320 acres is by far too small to combine cultivation and sheep farming successfully, as the small number a farmer can keep will scarcely pay the cost of looking after them.
But from another point of view they will be found very profitable, if only to supply the farmer’s household with meat, which is very scarce here, and often almost unobtainable at any price. Our railway agitators in this quarter are very lax to their own interests in not properly organising themselves as to secure railway extension to this important district.
Meeting after meeting has been held with the attendance so small that nothing could be done, those taking least interest in the movement who would be likely to benefit most by it until the matter has been allowed to lapse altogether for the present.