As Prime Minister Scott Morrison flew over flooded communities in Northern NSW this week, locals could be forgiven for hoping he had brought some bread and milk with him.
- Flooded communities are short on food
- Farmers have been affected, but rain is positive overall
- Some food will be in short supply for a while
In flooded areas along the Hawkesbury on the edge of Sydney, many people are cut off and relying on boats and helicopters for their supplies.
Local supermarkets have been stripped bare as freight companies struggle with the closure of major routes like the Bells Line of Road and the Pacific Highway on the north coast.
Shelves bare in some supermarkets
About 30,000 people are affected by the floods around Sydney, and John Robertson, CEO Foodbank NSW ACT, said the shelves were bare in the local supermarkets.
But for most of us, life continues as normal and the flooding rains will not cause much more than a blip on our financial radars.
Some key food sources affected
The rain has damaged vegetable crops in NSW.
Sean McInerney, a wholesaler at the Sydney Markets who buys fruit and vegetables from across the east coast, said individual growers had been hit hard.
He said some things such as bunched vegetables, herbs, zucchinis and locally grown tomatoes would be in short supply for a little while.
“But we could pull those out of Victoria and we might have to pay a bit more for a couple of weeks,” he said.
And if you like mung beans in your curries, salads and soups, spare a thought for growers like Sam Heagney in the north-west of NSW.
He has been flat out trying to get the water off his crop after 160mm fell on his farm this week.
Milk supply tricky
Dairy farmers have been badly affected on the NSW Mid North Coast.
At the Clarence Valley Dairy operations manager, Barry Pass said his herd of 200 cows was safe but had been struggling to get milk off the farm.
“We’re a bit of an island at our farm at present.”
That is the same for 150 dairy farmers who have been affected across the region.
Many have lost cows in the flood, fences are down, dairies flooded and milk transport cancelled.
Sorghum harvest impacted
The rain comes at a bad time for farmers harvesting sorghum in the state’s north-west.
Sorghum is used in pet food, pharmaceuticals and by farmers as stock feed.
Rebecca Riordan from east of Moree expects her crop to be affected.
“We have about 100 hectares of sorghum that hasn’t been harvested and we haven’t been able to get onto it because of rain delaying the harvest.”
And she is worried about her sheep, which she moved to higher ground but can’t see at the moment.
“We hope they’re reasonably safe and were able to get through it all, but it’ll be a while till we can get out there and see how they fared.”
Meat prices going sky high
Sheep and cattle prices are at record levels right now.
They started going up in the drought and this rain has pushed cattle prices to record levels yet again.
Now they are worth twice as much in the saleyard as they were two years ago, based on the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator.
Globally, food prices are trending up as well.
The price of agricultural commodities traded on the global stage has shot up by 50 per cent since the middle of 2020, according to economists at Rabobank.
Wheat, corn, soy and sugar have all gone up due to rising demand and supply problems, so expect to pay more for staples like cereals, vegetable oils and dairy products for quite a while.
So what is the good news?
The widespread rain has come at the perfect time for farmers who are about to sow their winter crops.
If all goes well, NSW will enjoy another bumper season, and there will be plenty of wheat, rice, canola and chickpeas to supply Australia and export markets.
That is good news for bakers and brewers who rely on them for wheat and barley.
The tricky part for growers right now is just getting their tractors onto their paddocks to sow the seeds, according to the Department of Primary Industry’s technical grains specialist Peter Matthews.
Rice and corn are safe
Sunrice, the Australian company that holds a monopoly licence to export rice, is also celebrating.
It had to import product from Thailand during the drought to supply Australian supermarkets but that will not happen this year as growers look like harvesting a crop a big crop despite the rain late in the growing season.
It is a crucial time, though, and wet conditions can damage the crop and the wet ground can make it difficult to harvest, according to Deniliquin agronomist Adam Dellwo.
“We were a little bit concerned about heavy rainfall causing grains to drop out of the head and shed.”
Mr Dellwo said the maize crop was about to come off as well, but damage should be minimal.
Maize is grown as feed for livestock as well as for human consumption.
“Maize for silage has mostly been chopped and is off, [while] the grain harvest for maize hasn’t started yet either,” he said.