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Recovery from record drought under way for farming communities in south-west Queensland

Saturday April 3, 2021 - 21:25 EDT
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Roma grazier Alanah Ladbrook says the recent rains have renewed hope that the end of the drought is in sight. - ABC

Widespread rain and flooding have put drought-affected communities in south-west Queensland on the path to recovery.

Graziers are beginning to rebuild herds, the soil is moist and ready for winter cropping and irrigators are harvesting floodwaters for next summer.

Broader regional economies are also beginning to bounce back from the toll taken by drought.

On Alanah Ladbrook's cattle property near Roma, 480 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, she's enjoying hearing significant rain hitting the roof. 

"That's the most beautiful sound. They should bottle it and sell it," she said.

Ms Ladbrook's paddocks are a vista of green grass and plump cattle, and her confidence in feeding and growing her herd is back.

"It's a bit like giving birth to a child ? you say 'I'll never do that again', but once it's over you're back into the swing of things again," she said.

The supply of cattle at the nearby sale yard at Roma has thinned as producers hold onto livestock to breed and fatten them on new pasture.

"We'll probably hold onto some of our heifers rather than sell them," Ms Ladbrook said.

That market dynamic is helping push prices to record levels.

The Eastern Young Cattle Indicator looks set to climb past 900 cents per kilogram for the first time as restockers and feedlotters continue to show insatiable demand for livestock.

"I've seen the markets come and go, and go up and down and we're all hoping it stays up and gives us the prices we really deserve for the costs we've had to put in over the years," Ms Ladbrook said.

Border rivers in flood

Further south, rivers running through the Queensland-New South Wales border are in flood and irrigators are rebounding from drought.

At St George, 500 kilometres south-west of Brisbane, Beardmore Dam, which supplies irrigation water to local farmers, is overflowing.

That means farmers along the Balonne River can harvest large quantities of floodwater and store it for next summer.

Scott Armstrong grows irrigated cotton and said his business was beginning to repair the financial damage sustained during the drought.

"It has been a long hard slog of successive failures in both winter and summer crops for many years," he said.

"We're able to put water away for future crops as well as successfully being able to harvest the crop we've been able to grow this last summer."

Mr Armstrong's approaching cotton harvest will be his first in almost four years.

Regional economies in repair

Agriculture is a pillar of regional economies and communities in regional Queensland.

The Balonne Shire has been drought-declared since 2013 and non-agricultural businesses have also suffered a drought-related downturn.

Mayor Samantha O'Toole said improving profits of farms boded well for the region.

"Our economy is driven by agriculture so when they succeed all of our communities and businesses within the shire succeed," she said.

"This is really fantastic. It couldn't be better for us at the moment."


© ABC 2021

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