Farmers steeled for El Nino

FORTIFIED by good prices for beef, emerging markets for fresh milk, and rivers and creeks in full flow, Sunshine Coast farmers are preparing with some confidence for the onset of dry El Nino conditions across eastern Australia.

Queensland is in the grip of its worst drought in history, with more than 80% of the state drought-declared despite heavy rain from Cyclones Pam and Marcia.

With a dry winter ahead and the potential for no substantial falls before the new year, the State Government has begun rebating costs of emergency water infrastructure and farm freight.

That program is backed by $13 million from the Federal Government, which has also already provided $113 million in loans to Queensland farmers.

On the Sunshine Coast, Moy Pocket dairy and beef farmer Matt Trace says heavy late summer rain has the region well placed to face what lies ahead through to September and October.

Creeks and the Mary River are full and there is water in aquifers that feed the system.

"There may be no break in the season until after Christmas,'' Mr Trace said. "Instead of spring storms we could get dry storms with lightning and no rain.

"Through winter it won't be so bad because it's not hot and the ground doesn't dry out as much."

Mr Trace said he would be looking at his stock levels and storing feed sufficient for at least a couple of months.

"You could have 300 farmers in south-east Queensland trying to buy hay," he said.

"We've been lucky here. The place looks good. In western Queensland they're lining up for a bad dry spell after a below-average wet season," Mr Trace said.

Light to moderate flooding in the Mary River just a little over two weeks ago means the Mary and its tributaries are all running very strongly.

Sunshine Coast beef farmers are enjoying the best prices in several years and the dairy industry is starting to look up after a long, bad run.

Mr Trace, the chairman of the Gympie branch of the Queensland Dairy Organisation and a director of Premium Milk Pty Ltd, said growth had been tempered by a lack of confidence among farmers who had debt to cover.

That was expected to change as new markets, particularly those opened for fresh milk in China by Norco, brought greater competition for supply.

Topics:  agriculture climate change cyclones el nino farmers

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