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NSW farmers welcome 'unbelievable' rain as BOM warns La Niña could 'swing from drought to flood'

By Angelique Donnellan, Monday October 12, 2020 - 15:56 EDT
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After years of dry and brown paddocks, Rick Bennett's crops are a sea of green this year. - ABC

After four punishing years, the drought has finally broken at Rick Bennett's farm in central-west New South Wales.

His paddocks have been transformed from brown to a lush green and he's about to harvest his first crops since the start of the big dry.

"You sort of got to pinch yourself every now and then to see crops doing so well after the drought," he told 7.30.

"It'll be unbelievable in November, sitting in a [harvesting] header, watching the crops come in the front. Financially and emotionally, it'll probably be one of the best things I've felt for a long time."

This time last year 99 per cent of New South Wales was drought affected or in drought. Now, that's down to just over 20 per cent.

About 65 per cent of the state is drought free and the rest is classed as recovering.

Mr Bennett's fortunes began to change in November, when he received his first decent rainfall in months.

He celebrated with a run in the rain, in a video that went viral.

Since then he's had another 450 millimetres and will harvest wheat, oats and barley in about a month's time.

"Harvesting a good crop would … definitely start to claw our way back into normal life again, put some money in our bank account, get out of overdraft and just completely turn our world around," he said.

La Niña poses risk of swinging 'from drought to flood'

Karl Braganza from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said it appeared the long dry spell was finally over in New South Wales .

But that could spell disaster for grain growers at harvest time.

"What that [La Niña] typically means for Australia almost always is we get at least average to above average spring rainfall," Dr Braganza told 7.30.

"It would be nice if we got just the right amount of rainfall and it didn't swing from drought to flood, but that typically is what happens at the end of the prolonged drought period in Australia."

Martin Honner runs a sheep, cattle and cropping property near Junee in south-west New South Wales.

He's expecting a bumper crop this year after the prolonged drought, but is worried about La Niña.

"Too much rain could probably downgrade the value of the grain through the harvest," he told 7.30.

"We've been very blessed this year but we just need things to fall right for the rest of the year.

"Two days of rain and it's a disaster and seven days of sunshine and it's a drought. Everyone lives in the balance of trying to get it right."

Mr Honner said the drought had taken a huge toll on the farming community but spirits had been lifted by this year's good winter rainfall.

"The last four, five years, the toughest I've seen in my life," he said.

"All your bad years will disappear if you have a couple of good years.

"Everyone's a lot happier and you notice it when blokes get together and there is a zest in their step.

"But a bit like a boxer that's been beaten down, they're too cautious to throw too much optimism until we actually get there."

Despite predictions of above average spring rainfall, the BOM warned southern Australia would likely spend more time in drought in the future.

"When we look back at the federation drought, the World War II drought and the millennium drought and this drought, certainly the last two droughts have been the hottest on record," Dr Braganza said.

"So that's why we think there's an influence of climate change on those [droughts]."

'Elixir of life' brings nature back

Brendan Cullen manages Kars Station, about an hour south of Broken Hill.

He's not too worried about long-term predictions, he's just happy the drought appears over.

"Last year, we had a bit over four inches or 100mm. This year we're well over [the] 100mm mark now," he said.

He said in just the past month and a half alone, the station had recorded 60mm of rain.

"The lambs are in very good condition, the ewes are in very good condition, this pastoral country is full of protein," he said.

For the first time in more than three years, Sturt Desert Peas have sprung up on the property.

"I see life … three, four years of drought it's a long wait… once you do get that rain, everything just shoots up beneath you, it's amazing," he said.

"I think it's the elixir of life, ultimately if you're in the rural industry your life is revolved around rain."


© ABC 2020

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