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Drought leaves Fraser Coast farmers fearing the worst

Cane farmer Don Schmidt from Island Plantation.
Cane farmer Don Schmidt from Island Plantation. Alistair Brightman

FARMERS on the Fraser Coast say the practical support from the Government for the drought declared region will not save them from the potentially devastating effects of the dry.

Rain during the first three months of the year is vital for graziers, cane and other crop growers on the Fraser Coast, to set them up for a typically dry winter.

So after the driest February on record for Maryborough, and one of the driest summers the region has ever seen, Teebar grazier Malcolm Beresford said the future could be "catastrophic" for farmers on the Fraser Coast.

"If this [drought] keeps going into the winter, and we may get a wet, mild winter, but if it doesn't rain until September or October, there won't be too may cattle walking around here and there won't be too many farmers walking around with smiles on their faces," Mr Beresford said.

Mr Beresford, who is currently running about 500 head of cattle, said the 50% rebate of fodder for graziers in the now drought-declared region would "technically" help, but the most important part of the drought declaration was the recognition that producers were doing it tough.

"Everyone's saying it's never been this bad," he said.

"The recognition is saying we are in one of those 'once in 20 years' dries."

Farmers on the Fraser Coast are concerned about what the rest of the year may bring, after a tragically dry 'wet season'.
Farmers on the Fraser Coast are concerned about what the rest of the year may bring, after a tragically dry 'wet season'. Valerie Horton

Mr Beresford said as a cattle producer, watching livestock wither away could take a serious emotional toll on the farmer.

"When you've got livestock, you're basically their carer, you're obliged to be their carer," he said.

"It's probably very depressing for people to go out and see their livestock suffering."

Although his cane is not a living creature, grower Don Schmidt said he felt like a "dog chasing its tail", paying large amount in electricity prices only to watch the water dry up anyway.

Mr Schmidt said for cane growers, drought declaration meant the Government would subsidise some of the cost to irrigate, which was not much help when there was no water.Grow

"We've got no water to pump," Mr Schmidt said.

"So it's not going help at all."

Cane farmer Don Schmidt from Island Plantation.
Cane farmer Don Schmidt from Island Plantation. Alistair Brightman

Mr Schmidt said some cane growers in the region had forward-sold their sugar, which they may not be able to produce if the rain did not come.

"They're going to have to go through a buy-back process so they don't have to supply it, so it is serious," he said.

The Ward family grows vegetables in Aldershot, and have started a GoFundMe page to raise money to drill a bore on their property, to get themselves out of a serious situation.

Mark Ward said the family's dam only has about a month's worth of water left in it, at the most.

"We're going to in the next week extend our pump line and this time, we extend it and that's it; that's the bottom of our dam," Mr Ward said.

"We're in the final few weeks of our dam."

Run out of water and losing crops - Mark, Col and Bill Ward, of Bilcormack Enterprises, rely on the rapidly dwindling supply of dam water, to irrigate their small crops.
Run out of water and losing crops - Mark, Col and Bill Ward, of Bilcormack Enterprises, rely on the rapidly dwindling supply of dam water, to irrigate their small crops. Valerie Horton

The Wards have no choice at the moment but to "wind down their crops", meaning they are bringing in less income to drill for water.

Mr Ward said the community was coming to their aid, which made them feel more supported.

"It helps us a lot to know that people know we're here," he said.

"It's nice to know that we're not standing alone, it's nice to know that the community actually does value us."

Topics:  farmers fcdrought fcweather rural


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