DRY: David Cousins prepares new ground for turf farming, despite discouraging times.
DRY: David Cousins prepares new ground for turf farming, despite discouraging times.

Drought hits farmers from all directions

GYMPIE region farmers are copping it from all sides as drought hits them and their customers in the hip pocket.

Irrigation dependent farmers in the lower Mary River have been locked out of available water resources after being told by Sunwater that storages are now reserved for urban and other priority consumers.

Things are better upstream, but only just.

“I look across the river at the neighbour’s cattle,” said Lower Wonga turf farmer Craig Nichols.

“They can get water, but there isn’t much feed,” he said.

And in his business, he says, “Things have taken a turn for the worse since Christmas.”

Mr Nichols, whose business is moving from its current headquarters at the Sunshine Coast to the Lower Wonga property, said customers were reluctant to buy turf because they too

suffered water shortages and were concerned about keeping their new grass alive.

And from a producer’s point of view, it was hard enough to keep grass alive, let alone grow it productively.

GRASSROOTS EFFORT: Levelling the ground for a turf crop at Lower Wonga.
GRASSROOTS EFFORT: Levelling the ground for a turf crop at Lower Wonga.

“It’s just that hot and dry,” he said.

Mr Nichols’s company, Robert’s Turf Supplies, has staff now preparing a site formerly used for growing irrigated sugar cane, an industry under extreme stress after 10 months of dry weather, since April last year.

He said he had customers in Gympie who were delaying their projects because of extreme dry conditions since November.

And it could get worse, ultimately threatening the viability of the Maryborough Sugar Mill, where Gympie district cane farmers send their crop.

Closure of the mill would mean the end of the sugar industry in Gympie region.

Wide Bay and Burnett Environment Council president Roger Currie said projections indicated even drier conditions to come because of climate change.

“When it’s this dry, even the Mary River runs dry,” he said.

The turf growing operation follows on from the site’s previous irrigation sugar cane crop, which was struck by drought and poor prices on the international market, forcing many growers to bale up their crop for stock feed.

Seqwater, which manages Mary River flows from the Borumba Dam says irrigators are still able to access their allocations in its part of the river.