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Early cyclones bring relief, and even a near-record soaking, to dry far north Queensland farmers

Eric Barker, Friday January 18, 2019 - 19:59 EDT
ABC image
Tablelands Mayor Joe Paronella at the Tinaroo Dam which has been boosted after cyclone activity. - ABC

Two early cyclones in far north Queensland this summer have changed the fortunes of one of the country's most intensive farming areas.

Parts of the Atherton Tablelands were drenched by more than 600 millimetres of rain in December, making it one of the wettest on record.

It was a welcome change after more than .

"I think it was the driest I'd ever seen it, I'd never seen the creeks and rivers as low as the were," Malanda dairy farmer Greg English said.

"We certainly did have to increase the amount of feed [the cattle] were given and with that it certainly becomes more expensive."

Water security for irrigators

The early wet season rain has boosted the local Tinaroo Dam, which is currently sitting at 83 per cent capacity.

Tablelands Mayor Joe Paronella said while it was previously above 70 per cent, water was draining quickly with farmers trying to rescue crops.

"It was going down about one-and-a-half per cent a week, so that's a drastic fall," Cr Paronella said.

"When it comes to the cropping, we're very reliant [on Tinaroo]."

While other dams in north Queensland have had similar fortune, many areas are still looking for the rain.

Brisbane's main water supply, Wivenhoe, is at 74 per cent, Fairbairn in central Queensland is at 14 per cent, and Ilfracombe in western Queensland is resorting to a de-salination plant.

More water needed for Tinaroo

With the winter months traditionally being dry in far north Queensland, many irrigators are hoping for the dam to fill to capacity.

Papaya grower Gerard Kath said he would like to see the dam at more than 90 per cent of its capacity by the end of summer.

"This area we're in here, on the western side of Mareeba, is a dry-land savannah," he said.

"Without irrigation you wouldn't grow any horticultural crops here.

"I'd like to see it not too concentrated. I hate seeing big volumes of rain at any given time. It's always stressful for plants.

"[But] ironically, in the last month or so, most of the rains occurred on the weekend, so it's been ideal farmers' rain."


© ABC 2019

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