Granite Belt producers face a bleak winter

Granite Belt producers search for grass and water before the start of winter


Commercial
Palgrove stud principal David Bondfield, Strathgarve, Dalveen, said his country is well under par heading into winter. His drought management plan is to act early in response to the weather and not to overstock the country. Pictures: Helen Walker

Palgrove stud principal David Bondfield, Strathgarve, Dalveen, said his country is well under par heading into winter. His drought management plan is to act early in response to the weather and not to overstock the country. Pictures: Helen Walker

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Unprecedented drought bites Granite Belt and Traprock region.

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Significant rain events in other parts of the state have failed to reach and provide relief for producers in the Granite Belt region.

Many sheep and cattle producers are describing the severe conditions as unprecedented heading in to winter.

The region has not received any significant summer rain for three years, which is rare. It is leaving many wondering what their country will look like after a series of frosts hit during winter.

Seedstock producer David Bondfield, Palgrove, Dalveen, on the northern end of the Traprock said his overall management had changed because of the drought.

"We have our country spread from Emerald, Drillham, and Dalveen, along with Ben Lomond and Inverell in NSW," Mr Bondfield said.

"We have enjoyed a good run at Emerald, and an average season at Drillham but we are well under par here at Dalveen, and in NSW.

"Part of our drought management plan is to act early in response to the weather and not to overstock our country."

Mr Bondfield said as a seedstock business it was imperative they maintained their herd as the value of the genetics was irreplaceable.

"We have retained only the top 25 per cent as replacement females and young bulls, and have already sold down a considerable number of culled and empty young cattle," he said.

Mr Bondfield said while they were lucky to find some agistment in northern NSW, they were still looking for more country to lease or agist.

"We have placed a percentage of our stud and commercial weaner stock into a feedlot where they are on a maintenance ration," he said.

Part of our drought management plan is to act early in response to the weather and not to overstock our country - David Bondfield

"Our Strathgarve property has been drilled and water found, which we are now pumping into tanks and gravity feeding into troughs.

"At Palgrove, we've had 12 unsuccessful attempts in the same process, but fortunately have now ended up with three usable stock bores."

He said they have de-silted all dams and are in a position to be responsive once there is a break in the season.

Agistment found

Wool grower Sandy Smith from Allendale, near Gore, has reduced his sheep numbers from 6000 wethers to 4800 head. He fed from June to October last year and started feeding again in early February.

"I am feeding out cotton seed and grain pellets every five days and pushing eucalyptus gums with mistletoe," he said.

He will send 1000 wethers on agistment to Charleville next week, and has cleaned 20 dams.

"We have since had some rain and they have about one foot of water in them so I am hoping that will get us through winter."

Dougal, Greg and John Finlay, Finlay Farming, Texas, in a lucernce paddock they have stopped irrigating due to the drought.

Dougal, Greg and John Finlay, Finlay Farming, Texas, in a lucernce paddock they have stopped irrigating due to the drought.

No precedent to drought and in new territory

The Finlay family at Emu Plains, near Texas, have described the current conditions on their property as "more than one in a 100 year drought".

The family partnership consists of Bruce and Margaret and their three sons Greg, Dougal and John and their families.

"There was no precedent to this drought and we are in totally new territory, and changing our management systems almost weekly," Greg Finlay said.

The family has 1420 hectares on the Dumaresq River south of Texas, where they grow hay, peanuts, cotton and run cattle.

"Traditionally we would grow 5000 tonnes of hay annually, but are back to producing about 2500 tonnes of square bales," Mr Finlay said.

We are relying on our underground bores for 85pc of our irrigated farming - Greg Finlay

Due to their low water allocation, they only grew 50ha of peanuts and 120ha of cotton in a single skip row configuration.

Their cattle numbers have been reduced from 700 Droughtmaster cattle to 400 head consisting of breeders and backgrounders.

"If it doesn't rain in the next three weeks we will sell half of these," Mr Finlay said.

The last time the Finlays received a flow in the Dumaresq River was in March, 2017. They have only received 20 per cent of their summer rainfall average with 28 millimetres from December 1 to February 28.

During 2018 they recorded 313mm, which represents 48 per cent of the 650mm average.

"Any rain we have received has been very ineffective as it was recorded in small amounts falling on very dry country," Mr Finlay said.

"We are relying on our underground bores for 85pc of our irrigated farming."

As a result the Finlays have changed their management away from farming in the high heat months to concentrate on farming in the autumn, winter and spring until the weather patterns change.

Peter Reimers, Pearsby, Stanthorpe, is feeding out barley and chickpeas to his Merino Ewes every second day and continuing to offload his stock.

Peter Reimers, Pearsby, Stanthorpe, is feeding out barley and chickpeas to his Merino Ewes every second day and continuing to offload his stock.

Flock numbers reduced and hand feeding

Peter and Amanda Reimers at Pearsby, west of Stanthorpe, have not had grass growing rain during summer for the past three years.

Normally the couple would carry 8000 Merino ewes and 250 Santa Gertrudis cows over 4850 hectares.

Mr Reimers has reduced his sheep numbers to 4000 ewes and is continuing to offload his stock.

"We have sold 550 ewes to South Australia, 450 into the Winton district," he said.

"All our weaner wether lambs sold to Forbes, NSW, and a further 400 ewes sold last week.

"Our cattle numbers are now back to 50 head and are being fed hay and will be sold over the next month."

It certainly is hurting us to have to sell them through a drought - Peter Reimers

Mr Reimers is feeding his ewes every second day using barley and chickpeas.

A third generation custodian of Pearsby, he vividly remembers the drought of the 1990s, and said his father built more dams so they would not run out of water.

"Nearly all are dams are now dry, and I have put 4.5 kilometres of poly pipe, which is gravity fed from a dam that still has some water," he said.

"We have spent the past 20 years investing in the best sheep genetics from the New England region, and it certainly is hurting us to have to sell them through a drought."

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