Central Queensland growers are walking away from more than a million dollars worth of crops amid drought, while other parts of the state receive downpours brought on by La Niña.
- Some Queensland regions have missed out on Australia’s widespread rain, heaping more pressure on drought-hit farmers
- Central Queensland growers are being forced to give up on fields and there is no end in sight
- A senior agronomist says conditions are the worst he has seen in 40 years
According to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), central Queensland has fared the worst in Australia during the weather pattern.
Jambin grain grower Paul Heit said up to 40 per cent of his family’s mung bean crop would be lost due to the dry conditions and lack of development.
“Given the height, the outlook for them and the mung beans’ growth stage, it’s not really worth keeping,” Mr Heit said.
Since September, parts of central Queensland missed out on average rainfall by 100–400 millimetres, according to BOM data.
‘Not just now’
Mr Heit said the 161-hectares of lost crop would be worth about $500,000 if it were able to grow to full potential.
“They’re about $1,100–$1,200 a tonne for mung beans and normally they would yield half a tonne to 700 kilograms to the acre,” he said.
He said the lack of moisture in the soil made future seasons uncertain, meaning his next chance to make an income from some fields would be 12 months away.
“So our total area for the year could be halved for winter as well — so it’s not just now, it’s later on too,” he said.
Mr Heit farmed with his father at Bellview Farms in the drought-declared Banana Shire.
“Most times we’d probably get anywhere from 12–14 inches (300–350mm) this time of the year up until April, but we are flat out being 50mm, even for this year,” he said.
According to BOM, parts of north Queensland have received their highest rainfall on record in the past five months, but parts of central and western Queensland received “very much below average”.
Central Queensland agronomist Simon Struss said many growers were making business decisions based on rainfall predictions, but the risks were not paying off for most farmers.
“We’ve got crops that went in just after Christmas on a very low profile, basically on a wing and a prayer and underpinned by the bureau’s assertion that we had a La Niña still in operation,” he said.
He said most dryland crops planted in the Callide Valley would yield poorly.
“Generally at this time of year you’d drive around and there’d be very little fallow country,” Mr Struss said.
“We’d probably have three quarters of the valley planted, but we’d be lucky to have 10 per cent,” he said.
He said some farmers in the area had not had a crop for four years and there was no “light at the end of the tunnel”.
“It’s just a snowball effect and it’ll affect all industries,” Mr Struss said.
“It’s probably the most alarming stage I’ve been confronted with and I’ve been in this area all my working life.
Struggle out west
Western Queensland grazier Jaye Hall said she was careful not to make business decisions based on weather predictions because the risk had not paid off in the past at her Muttaburra property.
“We’ve been very careful to have not many cattle on here as well, because the past nine or 10 summers have been pretty ordinary,” she said.
Some parts of the region received average rainfall, but others missed out by up to 100mm.
Worst in Australia
BOM senior climatologist Blair Trewin said rainfall had been above average totals in most of Australia but central Queensland missed out severely.
“Central Queensland, from the Central Highlands out to the coast, is one stand out area that’s missed out … there’s probably not much more to it than luck,” he said.
“Rockhampton, for example, has had only about 20 per cent of its normal summer rainfall and its driest summer since 1990.”
Meanwhile the north coast of New South Wales recorded its wettest summer since 1970, Mr Trewin said.
He said central Queensland and south-west Western Australia were the two regions most in drought after an above average wet season elsewhere.
“The seasonal outlook for autumn [in central Queensland] is most encouraging,” Mr Trewin said.
“Most of the region is looking at a 60 to 70 per cent chance of above average rainfall.”
Additional reporting by Ellie Grounds, ABC Western Queensland.