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No income for 18 months: flood-affected grain farmers face the challenge of recovery

Kallee Buchanan, Tuesday October 31, 2017 - 11:13 EDT
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Monto grain farmer Jason Larsen says he's lost his entire chickpea crop. - ABC

Grain farmers in a central Queensland town are preparing for months without an income as they recover from a devastating rain event.

The Monto district was swamped when more than 400mm fell over just a few days, flooding crops such as chickpeas, barley and wheat that were ready to harvest.

Agronomist Kendall Muller said the downpour wiped out the area's entire crop, and with consecutive natural disasters in the past year some growers were facing up to 18 months without an income.

"It was pretty much across the board, off the back of a dry, hot summer followed by flood in late February, early March," he said.

"Ninety-five per cent of the cropping area was planted to a winter crop just to make up for loss of income.

"We were shaping up for a good winter crop; we were only days off harvesting, great prices, great yields. Now we've got nothing."

He said farmers were devastated and looking for ways to recover some of the losses.

"Everyone will go back into survival mode, not expenditure, and we're just a bit concerned about what we're going to plant in the summer time if it's that wet now," he said.

"Probably the biggest concern for growers now is what are they going to do with these barley crops, these wheat crops.

"They won't see any income now probably until end of April, early May, at the earliest."

'It's like a bad marriage'

Wayne Smith lives on the flats around Three Moon Creek, fertile country that lends itself to grain growing.

This is his ninth flood in seven years, and he said sometimes his relationship with the land he loves can be strained.

"It's like a bad marriage sometimes," he said.

"It's dealt us some pretty cruel blows in the last seven years and I think this last one is the one that's really hit a lot of us on the head."

Jason Larsen also farms on the outskirts of Monto.

He was worried about the cumulative effect of the succession of natural disasters on the town.

"It was just complete inundation yet again, we've lost our entire winter crop, basically 100 per cent wiped out," he said.

"I don't even know how to handle it yet; I'm still trying to get my head around it and how we actually are going to move forward.

"To have not much left in the tank, to actually move forward to plant our next crop, it's going to be really tough."

He said the flow-on effect would mean less money spent in the town.

"You've got farmers who have been struggling to pay their bills for the last six months growing the crop to be owing money around town to have nothing to pay that with," he said.

"How can you keep paying your way when you've got nothing to pay with?"

Businesses, contractors to suffer

Harvesting contractor and share farmer Ray Dorries said it would not just be farmers who felt the strain of the recent bad weather.

"We rely on contract harvesting to prop us up a bit through the year and that [loss] will flow on," he said.

"It's not just all the businesses in town; everyone is just going to stop spending because they've got no money to spend.

"We've got mechanics, workshops, tyre services, seed merchants, all the shops, everyone is really going to cop it hard because no-one's got any money."

He said many of the businesses were already struggling after Cyclone Debbie hit the area in March.

"The irony of it all is we've had to irrigate all through the summer to get out summer crop then we got it washed away," he said.

"Then the winter crop, we had to irrigate it right through until two weeks off harvesting and we've lost it as well.

"What we've tried to grow it with has ruined us in the end."

He said farmers had adjusted their practices to compensate for summer flooding, but losing the winter crop was a new blow, and many were unsure how to proceed.

"They've had their heart ripped out; everyone needed this crop," he said.

"We've just got to go around, try and assess the damage and keep going on as best we can."

The district is eligible for Category B disaster assistance, which provides low-interest loans and freight subsidies.


© ABC 2017

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