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Farming anguish as drought-hit southern Tasmania prays for rain, while north welcomes rainfall

Peta Carlyon, Thursday September 21, 2017 - 09:04 EST
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Tasmanian farmer Charlie Archer has watched the dry soil blowing away in the winds. - ABC

It's a tale of two very different seasons.

While Tasmania's north and north-east farming districts are experiencing almost unprecedented rainfall and lush spring pastures, in the state's south and east coast regions, it's one of the worst years for drought on record.

That has growers and graziers in affected areas very worried, with many describing the situation as "desperate" and "on a knife-edge".



With a record dry winter, a dry frosty start to spring, little rain on the outlook and a long, hot, bushfire-prone summer forecast, farmers are struggling to grow crops and sustain livestock.

"This is a time when we get most of our feed we'd expect to get most of our feed, and without soil moisture plants just won't grow," Tasmanian Farmers and Growers Association's Meat Council president Chris Gunn said.

"Farmers are pretty distressed and worried. It can change, but we're just not getting any significant rain in the southern half of the state. It isn't looking promising at the moment the way the weather patterns are.

"You're driving into paddocks seeing hungry stock ... emotionally it gets to you after a while."

Farms reducing output to cope with no rain

In Bothwell in the central highlands on the Archer family farm, as with many farms in the district, it is lambing season.

But the year's big dry and freezing temperatures have drained the soil of moisture and instead of sowing grass seeds for pasture, turnips and rapeseed are being planted to feed hungry stock.

Charlie Archer said with no guarantee of rain or crop survival, those plants are far cheaper alternatives for stock feed.

"As you can see with the drills working at the moment, the wind's quite high, it [the soil] is blowing away," he told the ABC.

"Ideally we'd like more moisture there. We're trying to retain moisture where we can to but without the rain, it's just impossible."

"Unfortunately we don't have the capacity to have the whole farm irrigated," Mr Archer said, and without rain "we'll have to run at 50 per cent production".

He said while "the crops will battle, it's the livestock that really suffers", and although it was important to try to stay positive, it was "hard".



Grazier and farmer at Hollow Tree, Richard Hallett, said he knew many farmers in the state's south and east who were doing it tough.

"We've been keeping rainfall records for 40 years and this is probably the second-driest year up until this point in time that we've had," Mr Hallett said.

While Mr Hallett said the months up until August had been a "nightmare", he'd been lucky enough to have some rain in August.



Mr Hallett is also chairman of the new Southern Irrigation Scheme, a project he said had been in the making for 10 years, and which he was hoping would assist the region in pulling through.

"It really drives home, in a year like this, why we've done that," he said of the scheme.

"It'll be underpinning a lot of production, millions of dollars of production, that otherwise would not be happening."

Not all farmers have signed up to the scheme.

The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association has already been in talks with government about drought relief.

Northern farms holding on to animals for better price

For livestock agents, the difference in season between the north and south could not be more stark.



Roberts' Northern Livestock manager Nick Towns said conditions were "fantastic".

"The north-east and north-west are probably as damp as they've ever been for this time of year and the central midlands is probably one good rain away," he said.

"The north and north-east is looking fantastic. The highlands are as wet as they've ever been at this time of year so it's all looking good in the north. There is a bit of stock starting to move from the south, so it gives us an opportunity to buy."

While farmers in the south were offloading stock they could not keep on their properties, Mr Towns said farmers in the north had good pasture, allowing them to hold onto the animals for longer to fetch a better price.



Roberts' Southern Livestock manager Chris Cusack said the mood in his regions was less optimistic.

"Without the feed coming on, those lambs aren't getting the kick away that the farmers were hoping to get," he said.

"There's a few people nervous. They were hoping to get that kick into spring but they haven't seen it so there are people who are starting to see a hard time.

"It's one of those things where we are able to move animals to other parts of the state and the farmers there are able to capitalise on store stock moving through."


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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