North Queensland farmers count the cost of record floods

North Queensland farmers are experiencing a worsening disaster as thousands of cattle perish in the record floods sweeping the region.

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After years of drought, the flooding rains are a bitter pill to swallow. The usually prized black soil of this station country has turned to treacherous mud, trapping cattle.

Matt Bennetto is a cattle producer, whose stock are among those lost. He farms with his wife, brother and sister-in-law on their property, Virginia Park Station, about 35 kilometres west of Julia Creek.

It is impossible to access the area by four-wheel drive, motorbike or horse and when it’s raining choppers can’t fly.

“I’m pretty confident that our 420 Droughtmaster female breeders won’t have survived. I know at least some haven’t.”

“My neighbour in the adjoining property yesterday confirmed he had lost 400 of his 420 Droughtmaster weaner heifers.

“I suspect the remaining will not survive. I haven’t added up what might be our financial loss but it’s probably in the vicinity of $1 million or more.”

“These rains were a break to the almost decade-long drought.

“During this time, farmers have been supplementary their stock with hay and molasses, doing what they can to maintain their beloved animals and to preserve their prized genetics.

Matt is concerned about the toll the disaster will have on his community.

Before now the worst flood this region saw was in 1974, this event has exceeded water levels experienced back then by metres.

“Seeing cattle die in such heartbreaking circumstances after years spent caring for them during drought, is something that is very, very difficult to bear.

“Coupled with the burden of financial commitments, this situation is going to take a lot to recover from.

“Everyone will be affected men, women and children. And not just those on farm. Cattle production is the lifeblood of our small and already struggling communities.”

Matt said wildlife were also impacted.

“I’ve seen kangaroos lying dead against dead calves. A mate reported that he had up to 120 kangaroos dead in his front yard.

AgForce Chief Executive Officer Mike Guerin is mobilising the representative body’s crisis resources to assist farmers.

“Our crisis management team is meeting daily to move issues up to the highest levels of Government to ensure situations are quickly recognised, responded to, and no areas are left overlooked,” he said.

“We are reaching out to local governments across the region, which whom we have excellent working relationships, to see if there is anything we can do to help. For example, trucking in fodder from the Northern Territory or New South Wales to keep cattle alive until new grass can grow may be something we can facilitate.

National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson has written to the Federal Government asking for support.

“We’ve reached out Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud to express our desire to work with the Government and AgForce to coordinate an immediate response to this emergency.

“A response that includes appropriate financial assistance and crucially mental health support to the men, women and children impacted.

“The NFF has also contacted the heads of Australia’s major rural lenders to ask them to for a guarantee that flood-affected north Queensland farmers will be dealt with equitably, constructively and above all, with compassion,” Ms Simson said.

These cattle in Cloncurry are dry and safe – it’s thousands of others around Richmond, Hughenden and other centres across NW Qld that are stranded in water and unable to access feed. We’re working with other levels of government to find the best way to drop fodder.

Today the Australian Bankers Association (ABA) issued a statement saying they stood ready to help farmers.

“After suffering through an extensive drought, many Queensland cattle farmers have now been cruelly devastated by these floods,” ABA CEO Ms Bligh said.

“Banks stand ready to help cattle farmers and others affected by these floods and other natural disasters through deferred loan repayments, waiving fees and other arrangements.

“Banks have dedicated hardship teams ready to assist, however it’s important that customers contact their bank directly to flag they are experiencing hardship,” she said.

If you need assistance visit FarmHub or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Source: Australian Farmers 2019-02

Farmers play an important role in supporting heavy vehicle safety

Whenever you receive, send and transport goods by road using a heavy vehicle, you are part of the chain of responsibility.

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This project has been initiated by NHVRGrain Producers SA and the National Farmers’ Federation.

Chain of Responsibility (CoR) laws are concerned with the safety of activities relating to a heavy vehicle and aim to improve road safety and reduce risks within the heavy vehicle sector and associated industries, including primary production.

Changes to CoR legislation were introduced on 1 October 2018, with Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) amended to state that every party in the heavy vehicle transport supply chain – from farmers to commercial carriers – has a duty to ensure the safe use of heavy vehicles.

What does it mean for farmers?

Farmers become part of the supply chain and are required to comply with CoR for a heavy vehicle if it has a Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) or Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) of more than 4.5 tonnes or is a combination that includes a vehicle with a GVM or ATM of more than 4.5 tonnes. CoR includes both farmers who are using commercial carriers and farmers who are using their own heavy vehicles on public roads.

Regardless of whether you use a commercial carrier or your own heavy vehicle, as primary producers, you are expected to do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure safety.

This includes complying with fatigue management laws, safe loading and unloading, adherence to mass and dimension guidelines, speed management and checking vehicle standards and maintenance (more information on specific tasks and who is responsible can be found in ‘Rolling out CoR in your primary production business’.

While CoR may seem daunting, keeping records that you are doing all that is reasonably practicable to ensure the safety of any transport tasks you have influence and control over is your main responsibility.

General resources on CoR are available here: CoR for Primary Producers and CoR FAQs.

Preparing and implementing a Chain of Responsibility compliance policy can help you satisfy the above requirements.

But, what should be included in your policy? There is no definition in the laws as to what must be included in a compliance policy. So, the level of detail and content will depend on the position, operations, exposure and needs of your business.

The five elements of the chain of responsibility

A principle of CoR for heavy vehicles is shared responsibility to prevent breaches of HVNL. All people or businesses in the chain of responsibility who have the capacity to control or influence safe heavy vehicle use, have a responsibility to ensure HVNL is abided by.

More than one person or business may be responsible for offences committed by drivers or operators of heavy vehicles and a person may be a party in the supply chain in more than one way.

The regulatory framework comprises five heavy vehicle activities:

  • Mass and Dimension
  • Loading and Load Restraint
  • Fatigue Management
  • Speed Management and
  • Vehicle Standards and Maintenance.

Rolling out CoR in your primary production business

The responsibilities of a farmer or farming business under CoR can vary depending on whether you are engaging a commercial carrier or using your own heavy vehicle for related primary production and road transport activities.

It is still expected that any party in the chain who has the capacity to influence and control the heavy vehicle activity, whether it be a farmer, loader or driver, is responsible for those activities and is expected to actively prevent breaches of Heavy Vehicle National Law.

Are you engaging a heavy vehicle provider to send or receive goods?

Farmers engaging a commercial carrier are not required to carry out daily vehicle roadworthiness checks, mass management and maintenance management but can fulfil their obligations under CoR by asking related questions of the heavy vehicle provider e.g.

  • Has the driver declared themselves fit for work?
  • Is the vehicle fit for purpose?
  • Is the vehicle roadworthy?
  • Is the trailer roadworthy?
  • Has there been a daily inspection carried out?
  • Is the driver appropriately licensed?

There is also an obligation for farmers to ensure trips are planned within an adequate timeframe to ensure speed limits are not exceeded and the driver will not be fatigued.

Farmers must also take all reasonable steps to ensure:

  • produce can be safely loaded and unloaded by either themselves or the heavy vehicle provider
  • loads do not exceed vehicle mass or dimension limits (information on weight assessment can be found in Produce-Specific Information), and
  • produce is appropriately secured.

A load on a heavy vehicle must not be placed in a way that makes the vehicle unstable or unsafe.

Are you using your own heavy vehicle to send or receive goods?

As a farming business, even when using your own heavy vehicle for transporting produce, you are still required to plan trips to avoid speed and fatigue breaches, as well as ensuring loading and unloading, mass and dimension limits, and load securing guidelines are followed.

Additional responsibilities for farmers driving their own heavy vehicles include daily vehicle roadworthiness checks, and complying with mass management and maintenance management guidelines.

Produce-Specific Information

The type of produce being delivered by a farmer or their heavy vehicle provider can change the actions and information needed to ensure CoR obligations are met.

For example, a farmer having fruit or vegetables transported would need to ask themselves questions including: Does the load need to be refrigerated? Do I have or need plant health certificates?

Reporting Unsafe Practice

Record keeping should be carried out by farmers to reduce the risk of CoR breaches and as a record of proper procedure if any non-compliance is reported or alleged.

If you are concerned you have witnessed a breach of HVNL by another party or business practices that may lead to a breach of HVNL, a Heavy Vehicle Confidential Reporting Line (1800 931 785) is available to confidentially report potential safety and CoR breaches.

Examples of CoR-related items to report include instances of business practices, fatigue, mass, dimension, loading, speed and vehicle standards and safety that would lead to breaches of HVNL.

More information

If you are still not sure of your obligations under CoR please refer to Frequently Asked Questions or contact content developer and CoR experts Natwide Personnel on 08 8360 2379.

Source: Australian Farmers 2019-02

Drought and dust storms taking a toll on sheep and wool production

Merino sheep were bred to endure the  Australian climate, but ongoing drought coupled with recent dust storms is taking a toll on wool quality.

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Wool brokers and farmers are reporting some wool clips have been reduced by two kilograms a head.

Jemalong Wool managing director Rowan Woods, from Forbes in the New South Wales Central West, said it is a challenging time for growers who are battling the elements.

“Obviously raised dust has to be collected somewhere, and it certainly does get collected by woolly sheep,” Mr Woods said.

“We have less nutrition and more dust to deal with which has led to a significant reduction in quantity, quality, micron and tensile strength of wool.

“The average six-kilogram wool cut could be back to four.”

Wool stock down

The Australian Wool Testing Authority reported that the amount of wool it tested in January 2019 compared to January 2018 was down 12 per cent to 151,013 bales.

Sheep are not only growing less wool due to seasonal conditions; the sheep population has also declined as farmers have been forced to destock.

Greg Rogers, has halved his Merino sheep flock on his station “Yarto”, near Booligal in the NSW western Riverina, and has been feeding the remaining stock since August.

The drought conditions have been exacerbated after three dust storms rolled through the property in a week.

“The effect on the country has been quite significant and it destroyed what little feed we had left,” Mr Rogers said.

“The dust has certainly made things a lot more difficult and we will have to up the feeding rate.”

Mr Rogers hoped they would score some significant rain before they shear in July and August.

“If we get some decent rain before then it will wash a lot of the dust out and all is not lost,” he said.

“But we will certainly need the season to turn around and if it doesn’t our wool yields will be down.”

Clip preparation key

Farmers trying to make the best money possible for their wool are choosing not to include the dusty and dirty wool when they sell it.

“Growers want to try and lift the style grade of their wool as much as possible, so the removal of dusty backs is more prevalent than other times,” Mr Woods said.

Despite those efforts, drought affected wools were being discounted at auction.

“Buyers have an expectation of a certain quality, and if they have to buy more dirt with that wool then they will discount it more heavily,” Mr Woods said.

Dust costly work for shearers

Riverina shearer Nicki Guttler said shearing dust and drought affected sheep can be a challenge, not only are they harder to handle, but also harder on gear, which was taking a toll financially.

“It does get a bit hard, it’s very dusty on the handpiece and it gets in your eyes as well,” Miss Guttler from Wagga Wagga said.

“It’s just a lot harsher on gear which has to work a bit harder and that can affect quite a lot of things from your combs and cutters through to your handpiece and the motor of the shearing plant,” she said.

Miss Guttler said under normal seasonal conditions she would use about eight combs and 24 cutters a day, now due the dust she was using about 12 combs per day.

“A comb can cost between $30 and $40 and can last a couple of weeks to a couple of months depending on how often you use it, so if you have to grind it twice as often, it will wear out quicker,” she said.

“I’m certainly having to buy them more often at the moment.”

The tougher fleeces were also impacting shearers incomes as shearing was piece work.

“It can affect your numbers especially if you are not used to pushing through a bit of tough dirt, it can definitely take a toll on the tally board,” Miss Guttler said.

“If there’s plenty of dirt in the sheep it can make the sheep kick and carry on more and make them very unsettled which makes them harder to hang onto.”

Miss Guttler said the drought had made shearing a tough commitment for farmers.

“With the rain very sparse farmers tend to hang off on shearing as they are not sure what to do,” she said.

“Do they buy feed or sell them or get rid of them before shearing? The farmers are thinking a lot about what to do with their sheep.”

Dust will not settle rising wool market

The Australian Wool Exchange Eastern Market Indicator is currently at $19.68 a kilogram, $1.56 higher than the same time last year.

“The market is holding up extremely well, I think it’s a blessing the wool market is so strong, because if it wasn’t I don’t know if people would be trying so hard to retain their sheep numbers,” Mr Woods said.

Mr Woods does not foresee wool prices reducing falling anytime soon.

“The national wool clip will continue to decline as sheep numbers continue to reduce and it could be a good decade before we see recovery in the sheep numbers,” he said.

“Given that supply is low as a result and demand is very high for wool I can’t see the market is going to have any major setbacks in the next five to 10 years.”

Mr Woods said farmers were trying to maintain their core breeding stock.

“They want to be in the position to start building their numbers up when the drought breaks, but we are going to be coming from a very long way back and it doesn’t rain grass,” he said.

Source: ABC News 2019-02

Foot-and-mouth disease detected in airport seizures

A disease that could potentially wipe out Australia’s multi-billion-dollar livestock industry has been detected at Australian airports.

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Key points:

  • FMD is considered a major threat to Australia’s agriculture
  • A biosecurity expert estimates an FMD outbreak could cost Australia’s livestock industries $40-60 billion
  • The industry says the detections warrant more spending in biosecurity measures

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said two detections of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) were confirmed by the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in meat products declared and seized at airports.

A third sample was deemed inconclusive among the more than 280 samples were tested for FMD.

The pork jerky, sausages and other pork products were collected by the Department of Agriculture staff between December 3-16 last year, and from January 21-February 3 this year.

Fragments of the African Swine Fever (ASF) virus were also detected in the meat of six of the December samples, and 40 of 283 samples taken in 2019 were contaminated with ASF virus fragments.

Mr Littleproud said FMD was “considered the biggest threat to Australia’s agriculture” and travellers that did not declare animal or plant products would face fines and possible court proceedings.

“I won’t tolerate travellers risking Australian farming,” Mr Littleproud said.

“I’m not interested in excuses, if foot-and-mouth disease got to Australia it’d be a genuine disaster.”

‘Canary in the coalmine’

Biosecurity expert and Melbourne University professor Tom Kompas said an FMD outbreak could cost Australia’s livestock industries $40-60 billion.

“That’s the alarm bell, you know the canary in the coalmine warning,” Mr Kompas said.

“The FMD one was a spook to me, because normally we don’t see anything like that. So that’s a detection that’s disturbing.

“[If] borders close we can’t trade live animals, we can’t send meat products out of the country except to other countries that have FMD.”

Victoria’s chief vet Charles Milne described the detections as “really concerning, but not surprising”.

“The lesson there is that people must comply with quarantine requirements and that applies to everyone in the population,” he said.

“The consequences of one of these viruses getting through and infecting our livestock would be catastrophic.”

Dr Milne was involved in responding to FMD outbreaks in the United Kingdom before coming to work in Australia.

“The feeding of waste food to animals is illegal and it’s illegal because of the risks to the health of those industries is immense,” he said.

“In the UK in 2001, we had to slaughter six-and-a-half million animals as a consequence of someone doing exactly that, and in Australia it’s estimated the cost of something like that would be in excess of $50 billion.”

FMD in livestock and livestock products is not a threat to human health.

Calls for greater biosecurity investment

Australian remains free from FMD and ASF, but Victorian Farmers’ Federation president David Jochinke said the detections proved a greater investment was needed in biosecurity at all levels of government.

“The current penalties are no more than a slap on the wrist,” Mr Jochinke said.

“They are an insult to Australia’s food, beverage and tourism sectors, when a foot-and-mouth outbreak could cost Australia $50 billion over 10 years.”

Mr Kompas also called for greater funding.

“Budgets are being stretched and you’ll know when you go to the airport these days at international arrivals only a fraction of people are looked at,” Mr Kompas said.

“It is a trust or honour system. When you actually start checking people you find a lot of occurrences of things that shouldn’t come into Australia.”

“If it were me, I’d spend much more money trying to make sure things stay out because the potential for damages are huge.”

Source: ABC News 2019-02

Labor plans to scrap cap on water buybacks across Murray-Darling Basin

A cap which prevents the Government from buying more water from irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin should be removed, says the Opposition.

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Labor’s water spokesman Tony Burke said it wanted to remove any restriction that could prevent water being returned to the environment.

“By removing the cap we are making clear that if we end up having to provide more water for the rivers then this will not be a barrier to doing this,” Mr Burke said.

“After the summer we’ve had, you’d have to say there is some possibility that at some point the Murray-Darling Basin Authority conducts its own reviews as it does under law, may well decide that more water has to be returned to the system to health than was previously recommended.”

Labor will introduce its new policy, agreed to by the party yesterday, in a private member’s bill before the Senate this week.

Mr Burke said it was better to remove the cap, set at 1,500 gigalitres, than to rely on compulsory acquisition.

Flexibility needed, says Labor

The cap was legislated in 2015 and marked a shift from Government purchasing water, to investing in infrastructure.

It was established to provide some certainty for communities across the basin.

“This cap was set at a level which provided some assurance for those communities during the early years of the plan,” Mr Burke said.

“But it does not make sense to keep it there as a permanent level because ultimately it will come up against the flexibility that the Authority needs and what it might recommend.”

South Australian Liberal Senator Anne Ruston said that it was a “lazy” politically-driven decision to attempt to remove the cap.

“As of today, 270 billion litres of water is still available through the cap buyback, we haven’t even reached the cap of 1,500GL,” Ms Ruston said.

Ms Ruston said removing the cap would have a “massively devastating effect” by removing water, and creating uncertainty in the communities.

Removing the cap ‘unnecessary’: irrigators

National Irrigators’ Council chief executive Steve Whan said he was disappointed by Labor’s policy.

“It’s not necessary, there’s still room under the cap,” Mr Whan said.

“It seems to be a breaking down of the bipartisanship, which is vital to the success of the plan.”

Labor’s new policy comes as the Greens are expected to introduce legislation to establish a federal Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin.

Source: ABC Rural 2019-02

MDBA assessment finds water delivery risks remain steady in 2019

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has undertaken an assessment of the risks that could impact on water order deliveries this summer.

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MDBA Executive Director of River Management, Andrew Reynolds, said the assessment found that the risk of a shortfall was very low in the coming weeks but there was a slightly higher possibility of water delivery shortfall risk in March.

“The assessment found that overall the risk of a water delivery shortfall this season is low, however should conditions turn even drier then the risk of a shortfall later in the season increases slightly,” Mr Reynolds said.

“That’s due to a range of reasons including the possibility that there will be an unexpected spike in demand at a time when traditionally demand from water users is tapering off.

“The risk of water delivery shortfall is not a new one for water entitlement holders, it is one they face each year. Importantly it should be factored into their business decisions and planning.

“It’s also a normal part of our business to factor in water delivery risks when running the river and we, along with state governments, have identified a range of mitigation measures to help us manage potential shortfalls.

“Those measures include raising Euston Weir pool, drawing on water from Lake Boga, utilising the Goulburn Inter Valley Trade account, working with the state authorities and users to vary and re-time demands and continuing to transfer water through the Murray Irrigation Limited escapes.

“I am confident in the assessment’s finding and that these measures will be sufficient to mitigate against a possible March shortfall event as it stands.

“However, conditions do change and we will be keeping a close eye on demand and conditions.”

The MDBA is undertaking work on River Murray capacity and shortfall risks in consultation with Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia and will be providing the Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council with an update mid-year.

To find out more about the 2018-19 MDBA risk assessment view the MDBA risk assessment for deliverability of water over summer 2018-19.

For more information about water delivery shortfall see the Understanding River Murray water delivery shortfall risks factsheet or talk with your state water authority or water corporation.

Source: MDBA 2019-02

Sources include: ABC Rural, The Land, The Weekly Times, Stock and Land, Stock Journal, Bloomberg, Farm Online, Queensland Country Life

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