Southern Downs still in the grip of drought

DESPITE above-average rainfall this year, our Southern Downs farmers are still doing it tough.

Late last week the Department of Agriculture announced that 80% of the state was now drought-declared - the largest drought-declared area ever recorded in Queensland.

DAF reassessed the drought-declared areas at the end of April.

It revoked the drought status of 16 council areas and added four more regions to the list.

The Southern Downs was not one of the 16 removed.

Yangan cattle producer John Brandon said he was not surprised that the region was still drought-declared.

Mr Brandon said he was not as worse off as some farmers.

"For me I have been able to grow some hay this year. I wasn't able to last year," he said.

"But our stock numbers are so far down we are just treading water."

Mr Brandon said so many people had been forced to de-stock to pay the bills that it was making it hard for him to breed.

"I also had to reduce my cows to a quarter of what I normally have, just to pay the bills," he said.

With an El Nino on the cards and a cold, dry winter predicted, Mr Brandon said things were not looking good for Southern Downs farmers.

"I am feeling okay because I have hay in the shed. Those who don't are in for a bleak winter, in my opinion," he said.

In attempt to escape the pressures on the farm, Mr Brandon headed to Beef Week in Rockhampton.

"It was good to get away and catch up with a few of my old mates," Mr Brandon said. "We also won two senior cow classes and a reserve champion.

"It was a tremendous boost to me personally."

Being on the drought-declared list gives farmers access to the government's Drought Relief Assistance Scheme.

This includes freight subsidies, an emergency water infrastructure rebate, financial support and mental health and well-being services.

Mr Brandon said he knew these services were available, but had not applied for any help.

"There is just too much red tape and it's too complicated to get any advantage from it," he said.

Minister for Agriculture Bill Byrne said the summer wet season had been too patchy to benefit the hardest-hit areas, and Bureau of Meteorology advice that the tropical Pacific was in the early stages of El Nino meant prospects for drought-breaking winter rain and spring rains were not good.

"While several coastal areas received good rainfall and are having their drought status revoked, I am declaring a further large part of the state drought-stricken, particularly in north Queensland," Mr Byrne said.

"The portion of Mareeba Shire Council I am drought-declaring today has not been drought-declared since 1979.

"This takes the total area of Queensland drought-declared to 80.35%, the largest area ever officially recognised as being in drought.

"The previous record drought-declared area was 79.01% in March 2014, which was also in this current drought."

A total of 33 councils and three part-council areas are now drought-declared, with 63 individually drought-declared properties in a further five council areas.


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