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Farmers call drought 'a natural disaster' as daily dust storms, gale-force winds strip farms bare

Isabella Pittaway, Tuesday March 26, 2019 - 16:43 EDT
ABC image
Mr McNaughton says relentless dust storms are worsening the drought situation for farmers. - ABC

As gale-force winds create huge dust storms in Victoria's Central Gippsland, farmers say it is time to call the drought a natural disaster as the little remaining topsoil is blown away from paddocks.

Winds of more than 100 kilometres per hour battered bare paddocks across Giffard and Seaspray yesterday, causing sandy topsoil to build up along fences and roads.

Fifth-generation farmer, Andy McNaughton, drove away from his Seaspray farm because he could not stand to watch the ongoing damage to his drought-affected paddocks.

"All our dams are contaminated, we've got all our stock in containment, so they're drinking out of troughs, even they get contaminated in this dust," Mr McNaughton said.

"The dust just keeps blowing in through sheds, blowing up against fence lines, blowing across the Seaspray Road, which sorry we can't help that."

Dust storms putting stock at risk

Mr McNaughton said sheep have stopped eating because of the dust storms.

"The stock sulk, they don't eat, and now they're starting to get cold which is the next big problem," he said.

"They just sit in the corner and sulk, they don't like having sand in their eyes either."

Mr McNaughton had hoped to try and put in some crops to grow feed but said the past few days has made that impossible.

The conditions have left farmers in the region even more concerned heading into winter.

"We've got no confidence to even touch the ground, stir it up and make it worse. That's about where we're at," Mr McNaughton said.

"No one's been through this in this area. Normally this area here, we can grow feed all the way through the winter but now that it's like this we'll start getting into frosts and it will really knock us for six.

"Something really needs to happen in the next four weeks."

Mr McNaughton has been battling feed bills of $50,000 a month despite reducing his flock to a quarter.

"We've got ewes that are meant to lamb in the next four or five weeks — we don't know how that's going to go in containments," he said.

"It's going to be very tough."

Paddocks left bare

Giffard West farmer, Steve Harrison, said yesterday's gale-force winds have left nothing in his paddocks.

"It is a natural disaster down here after the wind we've had yesterday and potentially today," he said.

"Even if we get rain now, it's going to be two or three months before we get any growth.

"If this was a flood [it'd] straight away be [declared] a natural disaster."

Mr Harrison said farmers across Giffard and Seaspray were tired of being forgotten by the government and that

"We don't want to be entertaining politicians if they're not going to bring something for us, we're a bit over that," he said.

"We need recognition of this district between Yarram and Sale, obviously beyond Central Gippsland and East Gippsland, to put us on the map.

"Really we're the forgotten drought at the moment."

Mr Harrison said the ongoing dust storms have been the last thing the region's drought-affected farmers needed.

"It certainly is the straw that's going to break the camel's back," he said.

"Today is forecast gale-force winds again and there's basically not a lot we can do on the run.

"We've just gotta batten down today and hopefully get through today, and again look for that elusive rain."


© ABC 2019

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