Australia - Farmers brace for ‘wet drought’ as rain threatens major crop loss

05.10.2022 279 views

Farmers across eastern Australia are preparing for the possibility of a “wet drought” and major crop losses as parts of New South Wales and southern Queensland brace for more wet weather and flash flooding.

“A wet drought is the same as a drought, you don’t get any crop because of weather reasons. But unfortunately, it’s because everything’s got too wet. So basically, the crops get washed out,” the Grain Growers Limited chairman, Brett Hosking, said.

“Hopefully we won’t have too many farmers experiencing that just yet.”

Still recovering from the last bout of flooding, Grafton grazier Peter Lake said the “bizarre” weather patterns have already put many farmers off planting crops and forced others to sell livestock earlier than usual.

“People are resilient, but it is starting to look like we can’t assume we’re going to be always able to do what we have always done. So we’re going to have to do things differently,” he said.

Lake said the consistent flooding of his paddocks meant most of his cattle had to rely on expensive cattle feed. After last year’s floods, he was forced to ration feeding and then eventually sell the majority of his cattle due to the ongoing cost of feed.

“Eight weeks ago, we bought a few more steers in the expectation that we’ll be able to carry them for at least a few months and sell them even if we do happen to get another flood but we’re down to just a small number of steers and we’ve had to buy food for them as well.”

Lake describes buying cattle as a “calculated gamble” that involved him and his wife really having to analyse price trends in the market and insure themselves against further losses in the case of more flooding.

“That’s our expectation, that’s the sort of detailed planning decisions that we have to now make. I think we’re coming to the realisation that climate change is affecting us.”

Hosking said farmers were innovating in order to adapt to the new reality of extreme weather. He said farmers were now having to change everything from the way they grow crops to how they maintain ground cover or crop residue on top of the ground to protect the soil.

“Farmers in Australia are probably the world leaders in that sort of technology and a growing number of them right across Australia have adapted to those practices and are using them to their advantage,” he said.

However, Hosking said there was still a difficult path ahead. On his own farm in Oakvale in northern Victoria, he has had to cease making hay, which provides a complementary and diverse source of income to his grazing operation.

“The weather doesn’t lend itself to profitable haymaking and certainly in the early parts of the winter, we’ve seen a lot of plans to make hay already abandoned by growers in my area.”

A severe weather warning is active for heavy rainfall across the western region of NSW, while there were 15 minor to major flood warnings in place for catchments across the state.

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