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Queensland flooding takes a toll on many as rain brings mixed reactions from farmers

Tom Major, Wednesday February 6, 2019 - 11:07 EDT
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Sugarcane has been sitting in water for weeks in parts of Queensland. - ABC

A year's worth of rainfall along the north Queensland coast has eased, leaving farmers and graziers to comprehend the aftermath as the clean-up begins in many districts.

Rainfalls of between 1,000 and 2,000 millimetres on coastal catchments has swelled rivers, with Townsville's Ross River bursting its banks and inundating homes.

Agricultural districts have copped heavy falls, with sodden lower Herbert River sugarcane growers facing losses this season.

Ingham farmer Paul Mizzi said the flooding had begun to impact his crop.

"It's starting to really take a toll on it now — it's been since before Christmas that we've been sitting in water," he said.



"Yesterday lunchtime we got a total of 125 millimetres, it's just one thing after another — it keeps on adding to the misery."

Mr Mizzi said it was hard to estimate how much of the crop was affected, but overall yields would be down.

"It's one of those crops that tries to hang on but you can see yellowing in it, if the water stays in that cane it'll have a big effect [on tonnage]," he said.

Tale of two districts

Just 50 kilometres upstream, Abergowrie grower Matti Kangas received just a fraction of those falls.

January brought 350 millimetres, while the first four days of February brought 60 millimetres per day.



"It couldn't be any better, for me here it is just a normal wet season — we haven't had a normal wet season for a long time," Mr Kangas said.

"I told people, 'look, I think we're in for a big wet', I really feel for those poor buggers downstream, over the years we've had what they've got now."

Mr Kangas has farmed at Abergowrie since 1948 and believed strong tonnages would be recorded when the harvest began in June.

"I reckon now if you went a put a bed down in the cane and had a sleep, you'd hear the cane crackling while it's growing."

Bruce Highway woes

Closures along the Bruce Highway have frustrated tropical fruit producers, some missing out on critical harvest periods on their farms.

FNQ Growers chair Joe Moro said Atherton Tableland growers of banana, papaya, mangoes and avocados had been slightly delayed by wet weather and transport issues.

"There are some concerns, but at this stage everything seems to be moving — not as fast as it should be but slowly," he said.

"There's good quality coming out, the concern is that if rain continues farmers would have to continue keeping an eye on fruit blemishes."



Avocados Australia's Jim Kochi said the best place to store the fruit was on the tree.

"It doesn't start to ripen until it's plucked off the tree — an avocado can stay on the tree for another week or two weeks," he said.

"There are still avocados on the market from Western Australia and New Zealand, it's not as if the market is devoid."

Strong inflows have swelled the Tablelands' Tinaroo Dam, with the impoundment now at capacity.

"[It's] seven years since it last filled, so everyone's probably very excited across the region up here and there were lots of sightseers up at Tinaroo yesterday," Mr Moro said.

Floodwaters upstream of Burdekin Falls Dam also surged into that reservoir.

A Sunwater spokesperson said the last time Burdekin Falls Dam was at a comparable water level was in 2012, when it spilled for 256 days from January to September.



Graziers rejoice

Charters Towers region graziers Mick and Tess Pemble have received more than 200 millimetres on their Allan Hills Station in the past 10 days.

"It's given us a lot of hope, hopefully it's spread around to more people who do need it," Ms Pemble said.

"We were in the process of thinking about what we could sell and what we needed to get rid of, because we just didn't have the grass."

Grazier Kylie Stretton from Red Hill Station, north of Charters Towers, said 443 millimetres had fallen on her cattle property.

"It's just been beautiful, steady soaking rain," she said.

"We bought the place in June and lightened off in October, lightened off again two weeks ago."

"Ten days ago we were sitting down and considering what to do next, we were going to get rid of all our young cattle and a lot of our breeders.

"We had not had any rain until last Sunday, it was looking very dry and the outlook was not good."

With rain set to continue, Ms Stretton said sunshine was now vital to kickstart the district's native and buffel grass pastures.



Many graziers have been isolated by floodwaters for up to a week, with roads cut and impassable for the near future.

Helicopters and boats have been used as transport options for some areas, while damaged roads could take weeks to repair once the water recedes.

"We have been stranded since last Monday … I took a chopper back from Charters Towers after dropping the kids at school on Monday," Ms Stretton said.

"I would say our creek crossings have been completely washed out, I don't think we'll be getting to town by road any time soon."


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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