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Queensland crops wither in drought as dams dry out

Amy McCosker and Lydia Burton, Tuesday March 12, 2019 - 12:54 EDT
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2019's summer crop will be the second that Brett Prince has been unable to plant due to drought. - ABC

Queensland farmers are nervously watching the skies as summer crops fail and winter crops look increasingly less likely to be planted.

For many, this winter crop will be the second in a row they will miss, for others it will be their third.

Dam levels also have farmers worried with the state's second largest storage, Fairbairn Dam, hitting its lowest ever point.

Dam operator SunWater's general manager of operations Colin Bendell said the state was in a strange dichotomy as dams overflowed with floodwater in the far north, while water restrictions were in place across much of the rest of the state.

"We have four dams spilling in Far North Queensland and we have a number of other dams in a very average position," he said.

"We have seven dams below 50 per cent and some that are approaching or at record lows.

"Fairbairn Dam is at a record low of 11.7 per cent … [and] that's very concerning, as it's a very large dam and it will take quite a large rainfall to get decent inflows there."

Mr Bendell said it is not the dam that is cause for concern.

"We also have Leslie Dam at Warwick at 7 per cent, Kroombit Dam at Biloela is at 3 per cent, Bjelke-Petersen Dam at Bundaberg is at 8 per cent and Coolmunda Dam at Inglewood is at 15 per cent," he said.

"In most cases there will be some water allocations but not in all cases."

Dryland farmers face another season with no crop

Dryland farmers who rely on rain only to water their crops have been feeling the pinch for some time now.

Capella grain farmer and grazier Brett Prince is relying on the sorghum he grew in summer 2018 to feed his stock.

"It's not uncommon to see a missed summer crop or a missed winter crops, it's a bit surprising to see us miss both," he said.

"It probably won't hurt now, it will hurt in three months' time when we are chasing our next lot of sorghum."

Mr Prince would usually have 160 hectares of grains planted at this time of year but currently his paddocks lay bare.

"This years' seen no broadacre cropping go in at all, last years' winter crop was pretty dismal," he said.

With only 30 millimetres of rain so far this year it will take a decent amount of wet weather to make any difference.

Mr Prince said he is staying optimistic.

"I'm sort of hoping that because we haven't gotten any summer rain we might pick up a little bit of winter rain and we can get our wheat in a bit earlier… time will tell, I guess," he said.

"I'm always hopeful, but I'm not holding my breath."

In southern Queensland farmers are getting ready to plough in cotton crops that have failed to thrive.

Agronomist and farmer Mick Brosnan said some will have to make the heartbreaking decision to cut their losses.

"The dryland cotton that has gone in, all but one of the crops has failed," he said.

"We'll probably be making decisions on destroying those next week, or the week after."


© ABC 2019

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