DRY TIMES: Leigh Shearman, a Goolmangar dairy farmer, is feeling the drought.
DRY TIMES: Leigh Shearman, a Goolmangar dairy farmer, is feeling the drought. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

The grass may be green but drought's impact being felt here

NORTH Coast farmers are feeling the impact of the drought hitting the rest of eastern Australia, pressuring an already fragile local dairy industry.

Far North Coast Dairy Industry Group chairwoman Leigh Shearman has seen one-third of the usual rainfall on her property this summer, just 43mm a month on average compared to the normal 125mm.

Ms Shearman said many farmers have had to stop irrigating their pasture, a rare phenomenon in the Northern Rivers.

Three weeks ago, Bexhill dairy farmer Ken Bryant halted irrigation on his property, which pumps out of the usually evergreen Coopers Creek.

"We're usually affected by flooding, not drought," Mr Bryant said.

"It's about to hit crunch time now, because we're running out of pasture."

Mr Bryant said, because the drought was so widespread, feed was very expensive and at times almost impossible to procure.

"The drought out west has pushed the price of grain up high too, and we're fairly heavy grain feeders," he said.

"Economically that's a real hit."

With no serious rain in sight, the crisis will deepen in autumn as farmers use up their silage crops early. These are typically reserved until late in the season when they transition over to frost-resilient winter rye.

"That is going to put severe pressure on dairy farmers," Ms Shearman said.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology's autumn outlook, "the chances of a wetter or drier than normal season are roughly equal over most of south-east Australia".

Ms Shearman said the region would need at least 200mm in two weeks to correct the dry.

"All the gullies are all dry so it's going to take a fair bit of rain to replenish the underground water supplies, and a lot of dams are very low," Ms Shearman said.

The drought comes as farmers face historically low prices, which are putting some out of business.

Ms Shearman noted that there were three large dairy farmers in south-east Queensland who were in the process of selling out .



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