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Tasmanian cattle farmers fear 'catastrophic' floods as farms inundated by too much water

Manika Dadson, Thursday October 24, 2019 - 09:22 EDT
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Farmers William Payne, James Finlayson, Jon Van Adrichem and Andrew Kay want action taken over the flooding Montagu River. - ABC

Andrew Kay has an unusual complaint — his farm is too wet.

As drought takes its toll on the rest of the nation — including much of eastern Tasmania — farmers at Togari, west of Smithton, are having .

It's forcing them to halve their stock numbers at least once every year.

Mr Kay, who runs beef cattle across about 360 hectares, said flooding was affecting prime farming land more regularly and for longer periods due to drainage issues with the Montagu River.

"It ranges from three to five weeks every time it floods, maybe six weeks, and the water just doesn't get away," Mr Kay said.

"Normally, we run 800 cattle through the summer — and then get to winter you're probably back to 300 to 400."

The farmers believe the drainage issues are getting worse each year because of log jams in the river and weeds that haven't been removed for about three years.

The river is on crown land, so it does not belong to the farmers.

In winter, some farms end up looking like lakes, and while most affected cattle farmers can send livestock that no longer fit on their farms to the nearby abattoir at Smithton, things are more difficult for dairy farmers.

Jon Van Adrichem, who milks 500 dairy cows at his automated dairy at Togari, said the issue is a "big problem."

"We've got another block we bought in Marrawah [about 20 minutes further west], so in the winter we can take our dry cows over there because we just can't handle the cow numbers here when it's all flooded and wet," he said.

Floods driving up operation costs

James Finlayson, who owns Red Hollow Aussie Reds, said flood waters take up a third of his farm each winter and create added costs.

"We can't use those areas so it does create a feed shortage and if the water stays around for a long time, it kills the grass from lack of oxygen…and when it's all gone we have to re-sow the paddocks … so it's quite costly."

Farmers have tried to fix the drainage issues themselves by creating levee banks to keep cattle dry and the Tasmania Government provided $350,000 almost two years ago to help.

However farmers said that the work was not being completed quickly enough due to environmental surveys.

Cattle farmer William Payne wants the survey process streamlined.

"We have to do an environmental study every time we try and do something and that just takes time," Mr Payne said.

"At present we're waiting another three of month for another study to be done before we can do some work."

Mr Van Adrichem said it shouldn't take six weeks for flood waters to drain.

"Just clean out the river, all the trees that have fallen over, just take them out and then just make sure that you don't get the blockages, it's not rocket science, but you need someone to say this is what we're going to do, and do it" he said.

"I've been paying, for the past 20 years, river improvement rates but I don't know what they've really done with the rates."

'There'd be houses under water'

Farmers are worried that if major floods hit the region, as was the , flooding could become "catastrophic".

"There'd be houses under water, there'd be cattle floating down the river, I'd hate to think," Mr Kay said.

The body responsible for the Montagu River Riverworks District, Tasmanian Irrigation said in a statement that considerable work had already been completed over the past five years including assessments, flora and fauna reviews, approved river clearing and the removal of silt deposits.

The statement said TI was currently assisting landowners to engage a river engineer to investigate flood prevention measures.

The Tasmanian Government has been contact for comment.


© ABC 2019

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