Riverina downpour a reprieve as dry Bureau of Meteorology forecast to compound winter farming

STAYING POSITIVE: Wantabadgery farmer Tony Clough with his dog, Abbie. Mr Clough has been a farmer in the region for nearly 40 years. Picture: Emma Hillier
STAYING POSITIVE: Wantabadgery farmer Tony Clough with his dog, Abbie. Mr Clough has been a farmer in the region for nearly 40 years. Picture: Emma Hillier

A DOWNPOUR of rain across the Riverina overnight on Sunday and Monday has been welcomed by farmers as a slight reprieve, but one farmer said the drought continues to be "the worst I've seen in this area in my lifetime".

The Bureau of Meteorology's rainfall data shows that across the major Riverina areas between Sunday and Wednesday, Wagga had 25mm, Junee had 25.2 Griffith had 48.2mm and Narrandera had 35.8mm.

Wantabadgery farmer Tony Clough, 66, said that while the situation continued to be dire, the 7.6mm in the village on Monday was much needed help.

"Moisture's gone down a fair bit, it'd give us feed for another few weeks," Mr Clough said.

"It'd also give us a chance to get started on canola."

The mixed-farming operator said frugality has become paramount.

"We've rationed and changed habits, feeds have become a bit tight," Mr Clough said.

"Although I've been able to supply my own fodder for the past 18 months, we're running low at a rapid rate now.

"There's no incentives there for farmers to conserve fodder and, realistically, a lot of farmers have had to buy for the past 12 to 18 months.

"We are that far behind the eight ball when we look at rainfall events.

"I've never seen the ground as dry and when you've got trees dying from a lack of moisture, it's terrible."

I've never seen the ground as dry and when you've got trees dying from a lack of moisture, it's terrible.

Tony Clough, Riverina farmer

Looking ahead, BOM's rainfall outlook for May to July shows no strong indication either way towards wetter or drier than the average three months ahead.

Warmer than average days are very likely for most of Australia for May to July with the Riverina sitting between a 35 to 60 per cent chance of exceeding the media rainfall.

The Riverina had a 40 to 60 per cent chance for the same period in 2018.

Mr Clough, who has been farming since 1981, said the cooler months approaching would compound issues with livestock.

"Going into the winter, when it starts to cool down and there's no feed, the energy requirements for those livestock are a lot higher than now," Mr Clough said.

"Therefore we need to be feeding them more, but we don't have the feed to give them."

However, he said he and a lot of famers were staying positive.

"It will rain again and we just have to hang in there and make the most of what we've got," he said.

"Farmers are a resilient mob.

"It's like sailing on a sailing boat out in the ocean - you've got to change tact occasionally and I think we've been doing that every weekend for the last 52 weeks."

The lack of rainfall has been compounded earlier this month with water markets in the southern Murray-Darling Basin trading for almost $600 per megalitre.

In 2015, allocation prices were as low as $185 per ML and as high as $300 per ML.

Fellow farmer John Higginson, based about 5km west of Junee, said that while the latest rain of 6.5mm at his property helps, he had concerns about having enough fodder to last through winter.

"The stock and our wool prices - we've got to maintain our stock to hang on to them until we come out of this," he said.

"I hate to be trying to buy young stock - whether merinos or cross breeds - because whenever this drought breaks, they'll just be unprocurable.

"It [rain] will all germinate and keep things ticking over until the next rain and who knows when that will be.

"Once we get out of April, which is pretty ordinary, our confidence will go up."

While rain is not forecast for the rest of the week, BOM duty forecaster Richard Carlyonsaid residents should expect cooler temperatures.

"We are seeing a slightly stronger cold fronts moving through, pushing the hot air further north and bringing some cooler weather from the south and average temperatures," he said.

"The low temperatures look like it will be settling in for this week and we aren't going to see the high temperatures return.

"Normally, April is the month to see a large drop off. It is a transitional month."

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