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Drought continues to grip northern Queensland despite the huge dumps of summer rain

Tom Major, Friday July 19, 2019 - 08:43 EST
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Many western Queensland graziers are hoping this summer will be the one to finally end eight years of drought. - ABC

Huge swathes of north and west Queensland remain in dire drought despite the huge dumps of summer rain that brought widespread destruction.

Flood-hit Winton, McKinlay and Richmond shires remain declared by the Queensland Government, while the southern half of Flinders Shire is also included.

That area includes grazier Alistair Anderson's Ballater Station, 110 kilometres southwest of Hughenden, where drought has bitten hard since 2013.

Compounding his woes, 300 millimetres of rain in just two days during February killed 250 of his cows.

"They weren't particularly poor because they'd been fed since May — hay and also supplements — it's a bit hard to say what happened," Mr Anderson said.

"I think just those extreme winds and rain for weeks on end, I think their bodies quit on them."

Industry body AgForce estimated 238,000 head of cattle were lost on the Mitchell grass downs country, along with 48,000 head of sheep.

Despite that rain, the district's pastures largely failed to respond, leaving many graziers in a difficult position to rebuild herds.

"A lot of Flinders grass came up, the Mitchell grass didn't get a start, but the cattle are still in very good condition," Mr Anderson said.

"We'll just have to keep the females out of our weaner mob and build our herds again, provided wet seasons come.

"If we could order them, it'd be a lot easier."

Shire split

Flinders Shire's northern areas received strong wet season falls and little damage in the eastern district.

Prairie grazier Bill Bode has lived at The Plains Station, just north of the Flinders Highway for more than 50 years.

He said the year was similar to 1983 and with late summer rains followed by strong winter falls, and had reached his 450-millimetre average annual rainfall.

"I believe I should be buying some cattle now to utilise the grass, otherwise agist some," Mr Bode said.

To rebuild his herd to about 500 cows, he will keep more young females and bring in more young cattle to fatten for profit.

"If I can I'll buy some poor cattle, good frames, quite cheaply I hope," he said.

"I feel for my fellow graziers, but you've gotta have money to keep going."

Road to recovery

Local mayor Jane McNamara said a council audit showed 52 properties in Flinders Shire were still severely drought affected.

With many close to totally destocked following years of drought, there are concerns the seriousness of the situation is poorly understood.

Cr McNamara criticised the recent decision by the State Government to remove freight subsidies for graziers to transport necessities like hay and molasses.

"That's one of the things that most of the property owners here in the Flinders Shire actually do use," she said.

"It's a very important component of looking after stock … it could possibly be graziers are forced to sell their breeding stock."

Significant grants, including up to $400,000 per property through the North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency, are available to those who can apply until 2021.

But for Mr Anderson, having sufficient grass to restock cattle with that money was a distant dream.

"At this stage it would be pointless for me to do anything about it because I haven't got any feed to put more stock on the place," he said.

"I just have to be happy with what I've got for a while."

Cr McNamara said the stark difference between this year and previous seasons of similar rainfall should be considered as part of future government decisions.

"One of our properties has had over 330 millimetres of rain which normally means good grass growth, we've actually found we don't have good grass," she said.

"I would say three to five years of good seasons before we get back to having good coverage."


© ABC 2019

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