North Queensland farmers are experiencing a worsening disaster as thousands of cattle perish in the record floods sweeping the region.
After years of drought, the flooding rains are a bitter pill to swallow. The usually prized black soil of this station country has turned to treacherous mud, trapping cattle.
Matt Bennetto is a cattle producer, whose stock are among those lost. He farms with his wife, brother and sister-in-law on their property, Virginia Park Station, about 35 kilometres west of Julia Creek.
At this stage, Matt is unable to access his property to assess his herd, but reports are that between 50 and 100 per cent of his family’s Droughtmaster and Brahman cattle may have been lost.
It is impossible to access the area by four-wheel drive, motorbike or horse and when it’s raining choppers can’t fly.
“I’m pretty confident that our 420 Droughtmaster female breeders won’t have survived. I know at least some haven’t.”
“My neighbour in the adjoining property yesterday confirmed he had lost 400 of his 420 Droughtmaster weaner heifers.
“I suspect the remaining will not survive. I haven’t added up what might be our financial loss but it’s probably in the vicinity of $1 million or more.”
Matt Bennetto said for many of his neighbours breeding cattle had been their life’s work.
“These rains were a break to the almost decade-long drought.
“During this time, farmers have been supplementary their stock with hay and molasses, doing what they can to maintain their beloved animals and to preserve their prized genetics.
Matt is concerned about the toll the disaster will have on his community.
Before now the worst flood this region saw was in 1974, this event has exceeded water levels experienced back then by metres.
“Seeing cattle die in such heartbreaking circumstances after years spent caring for them during drought, is something that is very, very difficult to bear.
“Coupled with the burden of financial commitments, this situation is going to take a lot to recover from.
“Everyone will be affected men, women and children. And not just those on farm. Cattle production is the lifeblood of our small and already struggling communities.”
Matt said wildlife were also impacted.
“I’ve seen kangaroos lying dead against dead calves.
A mate reported that he had up to 120 kangaroos dead in his front yard.
AgForce Chief Executive Officer Mike Guerin is mobilising the representative body’s crisis resources to assist farmers.
“Our crisis management team is meeting daily to move issues up to the highest levels of Government to ensure situations are quickly recognised, responded to, and no areas are left overlooked,” he said.
“We are reaching out to local governments across the region, which whom we have excellent working relationships, to see if there is anything we can do to help. For example, trucking in fodder from the Northern Territory or New South Wales to keep cattle alive until new grass can grow may be something we can facilitate.
River levels continuing to rise in the lower Burdekin River into tomorrow. Roughly 16,000 cubic metres of water is currently flowing over #BurdekinFallsDam every second, the equivalent of 16,000 fully grown salt crocs being flushed down the river every second #qld #floods 🐊 pic.twitter.com/eShqcPH2FW
— Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland (@BOM_Qld) February 7, 2019
National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson has written to the Federal Government asking for support.
“We’ve reached out Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud to express our desire to work with the Government and AgForce to coordinate an immediate response to this emergency.
“A response that includes appropriate financial assistance and crucially mental health support to the men, women and children impacted.
“The NFF has also contacted the heads of Australia’s major rural lenders to ask them to for a guarantee that flood-affected north Queensland farmers will be dealt with equitably, constructively and above all, with compassion,” Ms Simson said.
These cattle in Cloncurry are dry and safe – it’s thousands of others around Richmond, Hughenden and other centres across NW Qld that are stranded in water and unable to access feed. We’re working with other levels of government to find the best way to drop fodder. pic.twitter.com/OoMwWcJuJd
— Annastacia Palaszczuk (@AnnastaciaMP) February 7, 2019
Today the Australian Bankers Association (ABA) issued a statement saying they stood ready to help farmers.
“After suffering through an extensive drought, many Queensland cattle farmers have now been cruelly devastated by these floods,” ABA CEO Ms Bligh said.
“Banks stand ready to help cattle farmers and others affected by these floods and other natural disasters through deferred loan repayments, waiving fees and other arrangements.
“Banks have dedicated hardship teams ready to assist, however it’s important that customers contact their bank directly to flag they are experiencing hardship,” she said.