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Wet-season storms drop 'best rain in years' across Territory cattle country

By Carmen Brown and Jack Price, Thursday January 23, 2020 - 06:12 EDT
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Parts of the Gulf of Carpentaria have received good rain this week. - ABC

Wet-season storms have delivered much-needed rain across Northern Territory cattle country, with drought-affected Barkly producers among those to benefit from the downpour.

Three-day totals exceeding 100 millimetres have been recorded across parts of the Top End, with more rain expected in the coming days.

For Rod Dunbar at Nutwood Downs Station, 500 kilometres south-east of Darwin, the rain couldn't have arrived sooner.

"It's the best rain we've probably had for two years," he said.

"2019 was the driest year I've ever seen at Nutwood; in some places, 70 per cent of the trees are dead, the cattle are doing it hard.

"There's not much grass left because there was virtually no growth in the wet season in 2019, so we've had it very tough."

The homestead received 121 millimetres this week, with widespread falls across the entire 435,000-hectare property.

Mr Dunbar said while it was a positive start, follow-up rains were essential.

"There's not very much floodwater around. Most of the creeks are just trickling, so it's done a hell of a lot of good," he said.

"We'll need a lot more but it's a very, very good start."

Rain drifts across parched stations

The industry estimates up to 800,000 head of cattle have been destocked from the Barkly region over the past 18 months, where stock feed and water reserves have been decimated due to drought.

Michael Johnson, the regional manager for Australian Agricultural Company, oversees five cattle stations in the area, including Brunette Downs.

With falls ranging between 24 and 63 millimetres recorded on the properties this week, he said it was promising to finally see a wet season break.

"That fall has been the most we've had in approximately two years, maybe two-and-a-half years across the whole Barkly region here, so it's certainly welcome relief," he said.

"Having had very little rainfall over the past two years, we're very much in drought conditions which we don't see, so it's quite bare.

"We're certainly looking forward to a little bit of pasture growth."

Cattle stations with significant rainfall in the past week include Labelle Downs (125mm), Bullo River (99mm), Moolooloo Station (108mm), Mount Sanford (64mm), Brunchilly (63mm), while the town of Elliott recorded 150mm.

Hay producers hopeful

The rain has also sparked hope among hay producers, following a slow and difficult start to their season.

With national hay stocks reaching critically low levels due to drought and the bushfire crisis, local and interstate buyers have been quick to place hay orders ahead of this year's planting.

Douglas Daly grower Chris Howie said while it was a promising sign for hay sales, rain was desperately needed to get the season underway.

"It's been a very slow start obviously. We haven't had a huge amount of rain up until now, but hopefully this week things will change," he said.

"The growth has been very slow, it's been difficult planting new crops.

"We've had a few failures and a few re-plants, which is not the best way to go, but that's what we've had to do.

"If we can get some good rains from now on, things should be up to average."


© ABC 2020

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