It has been a common refrain in the pubs and the paddocks of southern Queensland — don’t you reckon this weather feels a lot like it did in 2011?
- Farmers say they have been better equipped for this year’s floods
- After 2011, farmers invested in infrastructure to prepare for future flood events
- Cover cropping, earthworks, and on-farm maintenance have contributed to a decrease in damage
Back in January 2011, following weeks of record-breaking rains, flash flooding affected more than three quarters of Queensland.
A decade on, this year has been marked by two flood events — one in March and another still affecting the region this month.
In Southern Queensland the recent flooding has brought back many memories of the devastation caused in 2011, but it has also reminded farmers how far they have come with lessons learnt in flood mitigation.
What has happened this year?
Kelly Otswold is the Agforce director for South East Queensland and runs a property in Texas on the New South Wales-Queensland border.
“We’ve had extraordinary rainfall in that area and up the systems,” she said.
“Our place is currently affected by the floods. We are at the Cunningham Weir and the majority of the cotton we have planted is under 10 foot of water.”
It is not the first cotton crop Kelly has lost this year.
The director of Krui Pastoral at Condamine on Queensland’s Western Downs region, Jake Hamilton, has had a more positive experience with flooding this year.
“We were pretty lucky this year. We were cursing a dry finish to the season because it stopped raining here in August and we lost a little bit of yield there. But that meant that harvest was brought forward by about a month,” he said.
Mr Hamilton said he was less concerned about the winter crops and more about what is going to happen over the summer.
“Winter crops are off, but summer crops are going to be affected. [But] if they’re surviving the waterlogging then there will be some bumper summer crops around,” he said.
How does 2021 compare with 2011?
Looking back at 2011, Ms Otswold said 2021 had thrown a lot more curve balls.
“We believe the velocity in March this year was a lot worse than back in 2011.”
Mr Hamilton said the 2021 floods had brought both good and bad to his Condamine property.
“The different story this year to 2011 is that the crops are off,” he said.
“The Dogwood Creek — just to the east of us, it flows through the bottom of our property — it’s as high if not higher than 2011.”
Mick Freeman manages Tarrawatta, a cotton, dryland cereals, and chickpea operation halfway between Talwood and Mungindi.
Unlike many of his neighbours along the border, Mick was one of the lucky ones a decade ago.
What lessons have been learnt?
Ms Otswold said 2011 gave her the opportunity to take a step back and reassess how she dealt with floods on her farm.
“We did look at the way we did things, like cover cropping now to keep that soil covered to stop erosion, and placement of crops,” she said.
“It’s a learning space all the time.”
But two floods are never the same beast.
“We’re finding with each flood that although we haven’t changed where we live, the way the water flows does change,” she said.
“So we are learning all the time. Mother Nature’s teaching us some very sharp lessons.
Jake Hamilton at Condamine knew the rain was coming and wanted to get his farm prepared for flooding.
“We were hoping to do some more earthworks to prepare for the next flood but it beat us to it,” he said.
The earthworks were vital to reducing damage to his property.
“We can’t really mitigate floodwaters rising from the creeks. We just have to let them do what they’re gonna do,” he said.
“What we can do is control how the water flows over the surface of the rest of our farm so we can handle these big rainfall events without copping too much damage.”
Mr Freeman said maintenance was a non-negotiable when it came to on-farm change after a flood event.
“We intend to change those sorts of things after every flood,. You notice the difference that makes with access.”