Livestock loss fears as flood emergency inundates NSW

James Nason and Jon Condon, 03/03/2022

THOUSANDS of cattle remain missing and urgent calls have been made for hay for stranded stock as large areas of northern NSW remain inundated by floodwaters.

Darren Perkins from George and Fuhrmann in Casino said livestock owners had taken major steps to move stock to higher ground, but many had been caught out by the sheer scale of this week’s flood event.

Darren Perkins

“It is very hard to explain because most people took the big precautions of putting their cattle up, but no one expected the water would be two metres plus above the ’74 and ’54 level,” he said.

“There was only so much some people could do.”

It was still too early to accurately predict how many livestock have been lost, he said, but the number was likely to be “one of the biggest” the area has seen.

“We are hearing stories filtering through that cattle have been found, some have been found 30-40km away, even up to 100km away,” he said.

“One young girl had a stud and all of her cows, eight to 10 cows, drowned.

“We have clients that flooded on Sunday and still have country underwater now.

“It is a tragedy but the real extent of it is not likely to be known until the weekend. “

Mr Perkins said the flood has submerged major supermarkets and destroyed roads and bridges, which has cut transport of vitally needed supplies of food, petrol and livestock feed to the region.

“The biggest problem is transporting anything at the moment because there has been a lot of highway and road damage and bridges knocked out,” he said.

“They’re helicoptering in generators to dairy farmers. The whole region is very short on fuel and diesel and food supplies, a lot of panic buying going on, it is nearly impossible to get necessities at the moment and that is over a vast area of the whole northern rivers.”

‘Give them a call’

Mr Perkins said people were having trouble getting phone signals and there are reports some areas may be without power for six weeks. But still he urged friends and family to try to contact people they know in the area.

“The big thing for a lot of these farmers, if people have someone they know in the areas, just give them a phone call, or send them something to say we’re thinking of you.

“I have seen a lot of emotional young and older farmers, and also business people that rely on the agriculture industry that have been wiped out. It has an ongoing effect on everyone.”

Disaster declarations

Disaster declarations have been enacted in 17 Local Government Areas affected by heavy rain and flooding.

NSW Farmers Business, Economics and Trade Committee Chair Bill McDonnell said while communities were still very much in survival mode, this move would get the ball rolling on recovery efforts to come.

“We have never seen anything quite on the scale of this devastation in the state’s north, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones,” Mr McDonnell said.

“Time and again this important agricultural area has been hit by torrential rains and flooding, and we are already looking at ways to help farmers recover from the devastation.

“It will be a long road to recovery, but together we will get through this.”

The 17 Local Government Areas declared as disaster areas and eligible for support through Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA) are:

Armidale, Ballina, Bellingen, Byron, Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour, Glen Innes Severn, Hornsby, Kempsey, Kyogle, Lismore, Nambucca, Port Macquarie/Hastings, Richmond, Tenterfield, The Hills and Tweed.

Gympie/Wide Bay region flood impact

Stock losses in the Gympie/Wide Bay region of southern Queensland from last weekend’s floods appear to be moderate and isolated, however heavy damage has been sustained to fencing, roads, pumps and other infrastructure.

The coastal region from Gympie to Maryborough along the Mary River catchment was the first to experience the impact of last week’s intense Low, which moved from north to south before extending into NSW. Floods rose to record levels in places across the region on Friday and Saturday.

Local stock agent Dan Sullivan has operated Sullivan Livestock out of Gympie for the past 30 years.

He said in places, especially areas with river frontage, flood levels were higher than in 2011, and indeed higher than the district record levels experienced in 1999.

Mr Sullivan said the local problems were exacerbated by earlier, heavy rainfall that preceded last weekend’s floods.

Some hundreds (estimate only) of cattle were lost north of Gympie, from Woolooga to Brooweena to Boobyjan in the earlier episode, but some of those cattle had since been recouped, often down-river, he said.

Losses from last weekend’s flooding were reported along the Mary Valley, but often in moderate numbers only. One producer with river frontage had lost 40 head, but later located 20 of those animals.

“There would be more losses than what I personally have heard about, but generally stock losses appear to have been reasonably isolated,” Mr Sullivan said.

“All the local streams were fairly full already from earlier rain, and then many areas here experienced 200-300mm overnight on top.”

“That water had nowhere to go, but flooding in coastal areas often rises quickly, before falling just as fast,” he said.

“My own family has been on the Mary River for 56 years, and we’ve never seen it come up so quick.”

On top of losses of stock, the damage bill from fencing swept away by floodwaters and impact on other infrastructure like sheds, pumps and roads along the Mary Valley would be enormous, and would take months to rectify, Mr Sullivan said.

“Local roads have been badly knocked about. The road from Woolooga to Bauple near Miva station has been completely washed out, with the bitumen layer just peeled off. The Bell’s Bridge road to Kilkivan is the same.”

Parallels in terms of stock losses being drawn in some media circles with the Queensland Gulf floods of 2019 look well wide of the mark, however.

Unlike the Gulf floods where water remained for weeks on dead-flat downs country, the Southeast Queensland and northern NSW weekend floods have tended to be short, but sharp. And most coastal cattle country tends to have at least some higher ground for cattle to gather on, contacts spoken to for this report said.

Beef processing capacity impacted

As Beef Central reported in detail on Monday, some of the country’s largest meat processors have been heavily impacted by flooding in Queensland and NSW in the past week.

The Australian Meat Industry Council said in a statement today that whole abattoirs and work sites have been inundated, with workers unable to access the workplace and transporters unable to carry livestock to abattoirs.

AMIC welcomed efforts by Federal Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud and Qld Agriculture Minister Mark Furner in immediately reaching out to the impacted industry businesses and offering assistance.

“At this stage, we as an industry are still assessing the short-term damage as well as the medium to long-term impacts to processing capacity, infrastructure damage, insurance issues, and access to workforce and livestock,” said AMIC CEO Patrick Hutchinson.

“The affected businesses and the Australian meat industry is very thankful for the offers of support from government, as well as the offers of support from our industry partners, however at this stage we need to assess the damage first before we can talk about what assistance is required.

“The severity of impact at this stage has been varied, from loss of processing days through to extensive damage to major processing and supply infrastructure,” he said.

“The resilience of our sector, which underpins livestock farming, and farmers, in this country, has once again taken a hit.

“It is important not to underestimate the huge impact this has on Australian farmers, producers, and processors. The whole post-farmgate meat supply chain is wondering how much more it can take.”





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