Weather News

Drought-affected farmers struggling to rebuild after fires in NSW

Michael Cavanagh and Luisa Rubbo, Thursday September 19, 2019 - 19:36 EST
ABC image
Fodder delivered to fire-ravaged properties near the Bees Nest Fire, north of Ebor in NSW. - ABC

Much-needed support is rolling in for drought-affected farmers hit by a massive bushfire burning in northern New South Wales.

Local Land Services General Manager Paul Hutchens said the on the Dorrigo Plateau between Armidale and the Coffs Coast had a great impact on primary producers.

"This is the largest scale fireground and where the greatest livestock losses have been experienced."

It has been confirmed that 268 animals have been lost in the fire covering nearly 95,000 hectares north of Ebor. Seven animals had to be destroyed.

So far, more than 1,000 bales of hay have been supplied to farmers.

Weekly tennis goes on

But farmers are not letting the fire interrupt a weekly ritual, with several of them venturing on to the tennis court even as they try and work out how to rebuild.

The floodlights had illuminated two courts in the tiny village of Hernani where the only other community structure is the small school.

Around 15 people were either out on the courts or sitting in the very basic clubhouse waiting their turn.

'We will bounce back'

Scott MacDougall, whose family has farmed the area for generations, was determined to take up the racquet even as he faces the possibility of up to 200 dead cattle and kilometres of fencing to be replaced.

"There's not too many places left in rural places where you can play with around 15 people every single week."

"There's a lot of knowledge here. There are a number of gentlemen here that helps us out with different issues.

"People will bounce back.

"It is great to get feedback from those around you."

For the young farmer — with a 14-month-old son and wife who works as a doctor in nearby Dorrigo — it is now a matter of working out exactly what needs to be done and ensure the stock still alive are taken care of after the blaze belted "Marengo".

"Our immediate concerns are just keeping our cattle fed.

Mr MacDougall said it was about keeping the cattle safe and getting rid of as many as possible so they could conserve the fodder that they had to keep the remaining cattle.

With so much pasture razed he has been forced to sell stock earlier than anticipated with many of them already gone to feedlots.

For those remaining the task of maintaining them has been helped by the efforts of the Local Land Services (LLS).

"They have given us a lot of emergency fodder which will keep us going for a couple of weeks, so we can get on top of our numbers and find all of our cattle after our fences have been destroyed."

'We're in rebuild mode'

Not only does he farm his own land, but he has several forestry leases which were heavily wooded and only accessible by horseback due to the terrain.

"We've got rough numbers, but you really don't know till you have them all through the yards which are on the ground at the moment.

"We have a fair bit of work to get them back up and running.

"We still have a fair bit of country that we haven't seen or mustered.

"We've lost around 3,000 acres of grazing country," Mr MacDougall said.

Also on the court was Stuart Austin who manages Wilmot Station which was in the path of the blaze as the property is virtually next door to Guy Fawkes National Park where the fire started.

"We are in rebuild mode, that's for sure, trying to put it all back together."

"We were pretty much in the line of fire and copped a direct hit as it came out of the park.

"There is only one place between us and the park," Mr Austin said.

Offloading the herd

There were no stock losses at his place as the numbers were down and they were able to move them easily to safer ground.

Now, contractors with bulldozers are in clearing trees and putting up new fences.

"Having wiped out close to two and a half thousand acres, which is a bit over half our place here, it's meant we have effectively had to halve our stocking rate," Mr Austin said.

"This will have a long-term impact on the farm's program," he said.

He said they had already decided to sell their breeding cows, which they had not long had.

"We are offloading them and keeping our trade cattle and they'll give us a better cash flow in the short term," Mr Austin said.

"When we need cows again we will work on that when we get to it."


© ABC 2019

More breaking news

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC News
News Limited

Display Your Local Weather

Weather News

Underwater 'tornado' filmed off Queensland coast

15:57 EST

An unusual sight of what appeared to be an underwater tornado was filmed off the east coast of Queensland last week.

Cold and snowy start to winter in southeastern Australia

12:41 EST

Winter will arrive right on time in southeastern Australia this year, with a cold mass of air set to bring blustery winds, rain, and snow to multiple states on the first two days of the season.

MidCoast Council issues warning after erosion at Old Bar Beach and Jimmys Beach following damaging surf

08:38 EST

Beaches on the New South Wales Mid North Coast have suffered erosion from the , prompting a warning from the local council to beachgoers.