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Rats, fires, cyclones and a drought – welcome to an average 12 months on the land

Fires, a rat plague, drought, and now devastating floods – it has been 12 months of extremes for far north Queensland farmers.

Feb 08, 2024, updated Feb 08, 2024
A screenshot of supplied vision of flooding in Burketown Queensland on Saturday, March 11, 2023. A broad swathe of Queensland is being warned about the threat of thunderstorms as the northwest grapples with its worst floods in years. (AAP Image/Supplied by Queensland Police)

A screenshot of supplied vision of flooding in Burketown Queensland on Saturday, March 11, 2023. A broad swathe of Queensland is being warned about the threat of thunderstorms as the northwest grapples with its worst floods in years. (AAP Image/Supplied by Queensland Police)

“Graziers are a resilient lot but it starts adding up after a while,” AgForce’s northern director Shane McCarthy told AAP.

Back-to-back cyclones Jasper and Kirrily brought heavy rainfall and flooding from the northeast to the west, destroying infrastructure, crops and killing livestock.

Farmers from Cloncurry up to Burketown witnessed plains of floodwaters.

Communities remain cut off with a long wait ahead until the water subsides.

“Once the floodwaters drop there are places that would have hundreds of kilometres of fencing that need to be repaired or replaced,” Mr McCarthy said.

That can take weeks or months to fix and carries a significant price tag to producers already hit by the cost of living crisis.

On Wednesday, the Albanese government announced nearly $92 million in funding for flood-affected far north Queenslanders with grants of up to $150,000 to replenish livestock and replace damaged infrastructure.

But the funding grants are available for those impacted by the 2019 or 2023 floods, not the latest 2024 events, sparking confusion amongst graziers.

“We wait with bated breath that there’ll be another announcement for those that are affected,” Mr McCarthy said.

“Those guys are pretty tough but a little bit of help wouldn’t go astray.”

The Miles and Albanese governments had announced $119.1 million in joint funding to mitigate the damage wrought by the cyclones.

Mr McCarthy urged farmers who have infrastructure damage to fill out a Department of Agriculture and Fisheries survey so funding can be allocated to affected areas.

The weather impacts are not limited to livestock industries.

“A dry storm came through and snapped the cane, there was anywhere between a five and 15 per cent loss there which equates to about $57 million worth of cane,” Mr McCarthy said.

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For other cane farmers, despite flooding, the crops have been surprisingly resilient, the Australian Cane Farmers Association’s Jack Murday said.

“(The crop) is better than what it was looking this time last year despite all the flooding,” Mr Murday said.

He agreed more funding for weather-impacted areas is needed from the state and federal government but for the tropical coast cane industry, there’s another problem looming – the closure of a domestically owned mill.

“All the funding is redundant if we don’t have a mill to send the sugar cane to,” he said.

Far Northern Milling in Mossman entered voluntary administration last year after a difficult sugar cane season, leaving 90 farmers, more than 500 jobs, and a significant economic contributor in the local region in the lurch.

“It’s totally devastating. I don’t know how the local community recovers from this when our other primary industry tourism has been badly affected by the cyclones,” he said.

Locals were also investing in the mill to become a biofuel producer to create more jobs in the region by using sugarcane fibres to produce bioenergy.

Queensland’s Agriculture Minister Mark Furner acknowledged the concern from growers and the local community about the mill entering voluntary administration.

“It’s now a matter for the administrator and creditors,” he said

 

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