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A change of luck for farmers as new weather pattern answers Banana Shire's wishes

By Meg Bolton, Saturday October 31, 2020 - 09:29 EDT
ABC licensed image
Eva Barrett venturing through the recent rain water. - ABC licensed

Good rain means a green backyard for some, but for people working on the land it can be the difference between a pay day and crippling debt.

Mother Nature has plagued central Queensland farmers over the past decade, with fires, floods, cyclones and drought, but for those in the drought-declared Banana Shire, their luck seems to be changing.

Thangool cattle farmer Stuart Barrett said he received his biggest rainfall total in at least two years.

"I don't think we had much rain last year at all, probably not even in the double digits," Mr Barrett said.

Since Wednesday last week, parts of Capricornia received consistent rain in fast moving storms with minimal damage.

Mr Barrett received 176 millimetres throughout October in separate falls, including a fall of 87mm.

The conditions are a stark contrast to this time last year when he was in the process of selling two thirds of his cattle and spending more than $6,000 a month to feed the remainder.

"The biggest stress for me was the feed [grass] running out — I'm usually fairly conservative and it hadn't happened before," Mr Barrett said.

"Previously it was about dams running dry and being short on water.

"I addressed that with water infrastructure and I'd never seen my feed just go into rapid decline."

Mr Barrett lost 800 hectares of land to fire in 2014 and experienced floods in 2010, experiences that reflected the extreme conditions farmers faced.

"That just goes to show you the vast difference in farming and what we are up against," he said.

"Now, we've got green grass starting to come up, we've got water flowing and I was actually worried about fire this year because I don't have a lot of cattle and we had pretty good grass-growing rain."

The next chapter

While recovery from drought may take three years, Mr Barrett said going to sleep to the sound of frogs and the smell of rain gave him confidence for the future.

"It's certainly less stressful, you don't have worry hanging over your head about how long you are going to be supplementary feeding for," he said.

Meantime Banana Shire mayor Nev Ferrier hoped the rain would be drought-breaking but not cause floods.

"Some parts of the shire have been drought declared for five or six years but we will get pretty good rain after Christmas," Cr Ferrier said.

"It's a bit like 2010 and 2011 but not as big and we don't want it as big [because] we had to evacuate Theodore."

He said the shire's drought declaration status would not change until April, when he hoped the region would have received enough rain to not require the subsidy.

"We need a lot more rain yet, there's still dams not filled of course, our own dam Callide Dam is only at 24 per cent [capacity]," he said.

"But we are expecting it by Christmas or just after Christmas and we are pretty confident at this time."

Cr Ferrier said rain did not just benefit farmers, it gave the whole community a boost.

"It's always going to be agriculture at the base of everything and as soon as Australia wakes up to it the better off we are going to be," he said.

Rain starts money flow

Herb grower Richard Fairley said farmers opened their wallets when it rained.

"Even though we are a mining town, the farmers are the ones that support Biloela it's the backbone of the community and the businesses will say the same, when it's raining we are busy," Mr Fairley said.

He recorded more than 100mm in separated falls throughout the week, his biggest rainfall in three years and around double Biloela's average rainfall for October.

While rain did not affect his irrigated herb production, Mr Fairley said continued rain would allow him to plant dryland crop for the first time in at least three years.

"I've been really unlucky, if my place isn't flooding it's not raining, so hopefully it'll be a normal season," he said.

Rain was not the only positive Mr Fairley was celebrating — after a warm September, he has grown his best basil in years.


© ABC 2020

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