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Drought bites hard and drought maps questioned

By Robin McConchie, Friday September 22, 2017 - 17:46 EST

The accuracy of the current official figure of 66 per cent of Queensland being declared as in drought is being challenged.

Mayor of Central Highlands, Kerry Hayes thinks the figure should be higher.

He said the region's drought status should never have been revoked in May and farming families were now feeling the brunt of that decision.

"Not withstanding the track of TC Debbie, Central Highlands seems to be a bit of an anomaly, not drought declared like a small doughnut hole, in the middle of a map of drought-declared areas."

"Certainly some other shires to the north, were still partially drought declared and they had more rain than us'" he said.

With local drought committees not due to meet until April, there's a long way to go before those drought declarations will be reviewed.

Currently there are 32 councils and three part shires drought declared, with 52 'Individually Droughted Properties' officially in drought.

Animal welfare paramount in drought

But AgForce cattle president Bim Struss agreed the situation was more dire than the statistics suggest.

He said from what he had heard, cattle producers would consider shooting cattle if it did not rain soon.

"That would probably be the case in smaller numbers, in smaller areas, but it is an animal welfare issue," he said.

"We have a responsibility to provide adequate water and feed for our animals."

"If they are not fit to travel, and we cannot supply feed and water, we have a responsibility to not let them suffer."

"There will be individual cattle down at dams in places, that can't get up, that will have to be euthanised," he said.

But Mr Struss said this was not going to happen today or tomorrow.

"But if it doesn't rain before Christmas, we are going to see areas that are pretty dam dry, cattle will be getting weaker and there is not much feed about, so we have to look to manage those cattle as best we can and some of those cattle that are too weak to travel or move will have to be put down."

Mr Struss said the south west of the state and western areas were feeling the brunt of the prolonged dry weather and heat.

"We are taking 40 degrees in the next few days, high winds, drying out country, we have to be careful, they are the people who are suffering most," he said

Mr Struss said the forecast of possibly median rainfall between now and Xmas, made by climatologist Roger Stone, gave producers some hope.

Individual drought declarations available

The Department of Agriculture's Ken Murphy is responsible for a number of drought committees, including Central Highlands.

He said there was no scope to review the drought status of shires — that was a process that would kick off again after the wet season.

However, he said there was a process to become individually drought declared landholders in that situation should seriously consider it.

"They are entitled to freight subsidies for fodder, emergency water rebates, the same benefits as under the area declaration," he said.

"We'd certainly be looking at rainfall for the last 12 months, they'd need to be in the lowest 10 per cent of years.

"We'd want to see evidence they had sold down stock, they had been feeding and had made good management decisions, on their property.

Managing drought

Mr Murphy said at this stage they were not being flooded with applications as producers waited for the storm season.

"I think it is something we just have to manage. They need to look through their herd, non productive females could be offloaded and minimise the number of musters," he said

"But certainly keep a very good eye on waters, because a lot of animals do poorly in drought, simply because they cant get good water."

"Consider emergency water infrastructure, to make use of paddocks."

Ken Murphy said he had not heard of producers shooting stock, saying they were too valuable, they were worth feeding, but he said nobody would condone animals suffering.


© ABC 2017

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