Waiting game begins in flood areas

16 Mar, 2012 03:00 AM
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Tallygaroopna beef farmer Tom Sexton lost 350 round hay bales and says his winter pasture has been ruined. He says it was a joint effort with his neighbours to sandbag his house and save his 75 joined Angus and Hereford cows, which have been agisted on a Leitchville property.
Tallygaroopna beef farmer Tom Sexton lost 350 round hay bales and says his winter pasture has been ruined. He says it was a joint effort with his neighbours to sandbag his house and save his 75 joined Angus and Hereford cows, which have been agisted on a Leitchville property.

THE water is gradually retreating, but substantial hectares of farmland in Northern Victoria have remained under water for more than two weeks now.

The waiting game has begun to determine the exact magnitude of the damage, but for now producers are focused solely on moving water off their paddocks and getting much-needed feed to livestock.

United Dairy Farmers of Victoria president Kerry Callow, who is a member of the Murray Dairy Flood Taskforce, says the response to the flood situation has been quick.

She says about 150 dairy farmers have been impacted, while 35,000 head of cattle currently need fodder.

"We are working with milk factories and meeting with farmers one-on-one who require assistance," she said.

"This is a dairy specific taskforce, but we are helping other industries too and making they get hold of all the help they need."

Looking ahead, the other major concern will be animal health and welfare issues.

"Farmers should be on the lookout for lameness," Mrs Callow said.

"Already there have been higher incidences of mastitis and we are heading into calving now – so extra care needs to be taken."

The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) have been completing aerial surveys to locate stranded livestock, as well as contacting more than 1000 farmers to offer assistance.

"Some farmers have been unable to access portions of their property so information gleaned from our flights has helped fill in the gaps," said DPI flood response manager John Balfour.

But while the 2011 floods managed to capture the imagination of the entire nation, Mrs Callow said people did not seem to appreciate the size and scale of the more recent flood catastrophe.

"This is not just a few towns, this is an entire region," she said.

"Many people are dealing with high levels of anxiety, and I want to say to anyone who isn't coping to pick up the phone, because there is help available."

According to Dudley Bryant, who is heading up the taskforce, the cost of resowing damaged pastures could be enormous.

"The critical thing for dairy farmers and other producers now is to get that grass growing again," he said. "In the outer areas of the flooded region, some pasture might recover - but other areas are in dire trouble and will be looking at a complete renovation program."

But amid the wreck, there was some good news announced this week.

Flood-affected farmers can now access $25,000 clean-up and recovery grants through Rural Finance, which will go a long way in reviving pastures.

In addition, 14 flood-affected local government areas, including Greater Shepparton, Strathbogie, and Moira, will have access to low-interest loans up to $200,000.

"We don't want people to be taking on debt, but at least that option is available," Mr Bryant said.

The Victorian Farmers Federation is coordinating a fodder donation program, which has already attracted a large amount of feed - but more is needed.

VFF president Andrew Broad said they had been granted limited funds by the DPI to reimburse donors' freight costs, but they were currently trying to source high quality local fodder.

"If we can find local fodder, it's much better for stressed livestock, because it's what they are used to eating," he said.

"We'd also like to avoid the spread of weeds between regions."

Meanwhile, in other areas of Victoria that collected the record rainfalls – but were not severely impacted by the floods - there is good news on the way.

Incitec Pivot technical agronomist Lee Menhenett says the recent weather conditions in Northern Victoria and Gippsland has created one of the best pasture seed strikes he has seen in several years.

"Soil profiles are full, soil temperatures are warm and the expectant pasture growth over the next few months could be something special," he said.

"Follow-up rainfall will be needed to keep pastures going, but the opportunity is here to carry excellent feed wedges into the winter."

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Byron, looking at the Clear Grain site, it states that anecdotally, each tonne of grain is