$100M loss: Flow-on effect grows as summer crops abandoned
DECEMBER is the month when Stanthorpe farms would usually be the hub of the Southern Downs.
In a good year, paddocks are packed with workers planting and tending to summer crops and preparing for the new year.
But this season, as residents choose not to risk planting another crop that will succumb to drought, producers have been left with nothing but time on their hands.
Southern Downs councillor Cameron Gow, who runs the family-owned operation Gow’s Produce, said he should be well and truly in the middle of his summer crop by now.
But thanks to drought, he and a lot of other producers had become restless with ‘inactivity’.
“I’d nearly have finished planting by now, I finished my last planting at the end of September,” Cr Gow said.
“It’s usually such a busy time of year, but now it’s not and that’s stressful in itself. They’re (the producers) used to being flat out and they’re not. They’re walking up and down the main street waiting for something to happen.”
As the drought dragged on, Cr Gow saw the town becoming affected in even the smallest ways.
“I was just talking to someone earlier, and they’d gone to book their car in for a service, and usually they’d have to book it in a week ahead, but this time the mechanic said, ‘Nah, bring it in tomorrow first thing’,” he said.
“There was no one else booked.”
It left Mr Gow worried about what the future of the food bowl looked like.
“My biggest concern is that our region is worth $400 million in product and Granite Belt Growers Association recently did a survey saying we’d be $100 million down. As the drought drags on and people are not planting, that is sure to increase and even less will come out of region.
“That also has its flow-on effects. The example I keep using is when Cyclone Yasi hit. It had such an effect on the supply of bananas up north that the prices doubled and tripled.”
While the individual financial toll of an unplanted season was hard to calculate. Cr Gow said not planting was better than planting and waiting for rain for a lot of producers.
“If you’re not spending money on planting crop, you’re not losing money. The worst thing for producers is to plant and see their crop wiped out by hail, ”he said.
“If you haven’t bought plants or fertiliser, you haven’t got that outlay. Of course, that also means money’s not moving around the town.”
A non-existent season was also set to affect the tourist trade, in both negative and positive measures.
“There’s dramatically less working tourists and backpackers so that means there’s houses normally rented to backpackers that are now empty. I heard that there’s around 100 rentals in town not currently being used,” he said.
However, initiatives by tourist agencies and council to promote the region had helped ease some of this season’s pain.
He recalled a recent story where a visitor had come from Victoria to do her Christmas shopping in the region.
It was those stories that kept Cr Gow hopeful.
“If you want to help out communities like Stanthorpe, buy local, buy from the bush, do your Christmas shopping here,” he said.
“We are certainly still open for business and as with any sort of event like this, our region is resilient.
Things will change, it will rain, and our community will be here and ready when it does.”