Farmers hoping for a change in the weather - (L) Bill Ward with sons Col and Mark and canefarmer Allen Birt in a dried out section of the Ward's dam at Aldershot.
Farmers hoping for a change in the weather - (L) Bill Ward with sons Col and Mark and canefarmer Allen Birt in a dried out section of the Ward's dam at Aldershot. Alistair Brightman

Farmers speak out how driest February on record takes toll

PARTS of the Fraser Coast have suffered through the driest February on record, but the pain has only just begun for those who live off the land.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the Hervey Bay region received a measly 2.2mm of rain in February, while the Maryborough region only received 5.6mm, at the time of publication.

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With Hervey Bay's average rainfall for the month sitting at 142.2mm, and Maryborough's being 172.9mm, both recordings are some of the lowest in the region's history, with Maryborough's monthly rainfall the lowest ever recorded.

According to BOM data, the only time Hervey Bay February's rainfall in Hervey Bay was lower than this year, was in 1904 when 0.0mm was recorded.

Before this year, the driest February for Maryborough was in 1877, when just 7.4mm was recorded.

Farmers hoping for a change in the weather - Mark Ward with a handful of dry dust in a paddock waiting for rain so they can plant crops. Behind him his dad Bill and brother Col with (R) canefarmer Allen Birt.
Farmers hoping for a change in the weather - Mark Ward with a handful of dry dust in a paddock waiting for rain so they can plant crops. Behind him his dad Bill and brother Col with (R) canefarmer Allen Birt. Alistair Brightman

It is one thing to hear those statistics, but it is another to live through the harsh reality of the unforgiving dry weather.

For Fraser Coast farmers this means watching your canefields die or spending thousands on irrigation to keep them alive, selling cattle early or bringing in truckloads of molasses.

Some farmers have put their pride aside to ask the community to help pay for a new bore because their dams are just weeks away from drying up completely.

The Chronicle spoke to some farmers about how the driest February on record took its toll on them.

Lindsay Titmarsh, cattle producer, Tandora:

Mr Titmarsh runs about 1600 head of cattle on his property near Dundathu, and said his cows were still in good condition only because he pays $11,000 every few weeks for a truckload of molasses.

"Our cattle are looking good still, but I don't know how much longer for. We're feeding them molasses supplement which costs about $11,000 a B-double load, I'm on my second one already, that lasts about 3 or 4 weeks," Mr Titmarsh said.

"I'm 68 and I reckon it's the driest I've ever seen it, not only February but this whole year, it hasn't rained since June, that's nine months without decent rain."

Allen Birt, cane grower, Beaver Rock:

Mr Birt grows sugar cane near Maryborough, and said the worst part of the dry weather until now was the cost of irrigation.

"The bill hasn't come in yet, but I can tell you that it's not going to be pretty," Mr Birt said.

"Everyone's [electricity] bill is different depending on how much you irrigate, but then to watch that wither away anyway, it's a disaster."

Farmers hoping for a change in the weather - Col Ward in part of their almost dry dam. Behind him his dad Bill and brother Mark with (R) canefarmer Allen Birt.
Farmers hoping for a change in the weather - Col Ward in part of their almost dry dam. Behind him his dad Bill and brother Mark with (R) canefarmer Allen Birt. Alistair Brightman

Like some other growers in the region, Mr Birt is just days away from being cut off from the Mary River barrage.

SunWater told the Chronicle the barrage must be cut off from medium priority customers, including Mr Birt, once the level reaches one metre or below.

"There is no backup plan at all once the irrigation stops," Mr Birt said.

"And if we don't get some rain, it'll be a total disaster."

Ward family, vegetable growers, Aldershot:

Bill Ward and his sons Col and Mark are hoping the community can help them pay to drill a bore on their property, as they watch their dams dry up by the day.

"If we don't get any rain, we'll have about a month left of water in our dam," Mark said.

"I've never seen it this low in over 10 years."

Col said it was a hard thing for his family to ask for support from the community, but the family needed the new infrastructure if they wanted to survive the dry spell.

Farmers hoping for a change in the weather - (L) Mark and Col Ward from Aldershot look to the heavens.
Farmers hoping for a change in the weather - (L) Mark and Col Ward from Aldershot look to the heavens. Alistair Brightman

"If we can't get the money for the bore, that's it, this could end us," Col said.

"We would be in a hole that we couldn't climb out of, already we're suffering and cutting back."

A GoFundMe page has raised more than $3200 for the Ward family, with a goal of $12,000.



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