AS QUICKLY as the unprecedented floods swept North West Queensland, killing thousands of livestock, and devastating the livelihoods of rural families and their communities, graziers have just as quickly turned their attention to recovery.
As the flood waters receded, graziers got to work straight away, clearing debris and dead livestock, fixing fences, replacing damaged equipment and starting the long road to recovery.
Cloncurry grazier Donald Moore was among them.
Mr Moore estimates as much as 20 percent of his herd, which was otherwise healthy and strong, died – but like other graziers in the area, his herd didn’t drown.
“Our biggest impact wasn’t being under water, it was the exposure that killed a lot of our cattle. Through the constant cold and wet, with the lead up of days of 40C temperatures, hypothermia is mainly what killed them, they died from exposure,” he said.
“I thought we would be safe but it wasn’t until the last few days of the flooding event where I started to hear neighbours were losing cattle. I got in a chopper as soon as I could and I could see them same story; they were in the North West corners trying to get away from the wind and the rain. That’s where they all succumbed to the cold weather.”
Mr Moore leases a 16,000ha grazing property east of Cloncurry which was inundated with up to 29 inches of rain.
“The two inches we received from Cyclone Trevor after the monsoon event were good because it kept the grass growing. We didn’t cop it as bad as the guys to the east of us. Up here we are in the head waters so we didn’t have water sitting around and our country is a lot harder, rockier and has good drainage so the grass didn’t get as water-logged as it did on the black soil country. It has responded really well,” he said.
“Our cattle were fairly strong, they had pretty good feed leading up to it and I don’t think there is anything we could have done differently to change what happened.
“The older Brahman cows were hit the hardest, they perished. I lost them and I had some steers pulled aside ready to sell. They were not in any condition to sell after the rain, they had lost so much weight, they wouldn’t eat for two weeks. Quite a few died since the rain.”
Financial assistance relief
Mr Moore was quick to access the $75,000 Special Disaster Assistance Recovery Grants administered through Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority to help pay some of the costs associated with the clean up and recovery process and later a Disaster Assistance Loan to restock.
More than $75 million in Special Disaster Assistance Recovery Grants have been paid to primary producers, small business and non-profits across the disaster declared areas as at June 2019.
“The grant and the disaster loan really helped us because we were carrying a lot of debt, we had to service that debt and had repayments coming up just after the flood event hit,” Mr Moore said.
“It took a lot of pressure off us and it was one less thing to worry about when we had fences to fix and cattle to look after.
“That was our biggest concern, after the loss of cattle was being able to service those debts straight away. I had two guys who were able to help us with the flooded fencing and I had to pay their wages as well.”
Mr Moore said he was on track for his business to be back to its standard before the weather event within a year.
“It will mean buying cattle back in,” he said.
“If it wasn’t for the grant, instead of being able to go out and buy cattle, we would have had to breed our numbers back up which could have taken five years.”
Mr Moore was already aware of QRIDA services and the Regional Area Manager in Cloncurry, having accessed a First Start Loan to purchase 500 head of cattle in 2018. Many of those were lost in the weather event.
“I was very impressed with how quickly the grants rolled out and how easy it was. That was a big relief. I thought it was a really good initiative, with the flow on effects to the guys who couldn’t get work, I could pay them and buy fencing supplies in town so we were helping those businesses,” he said.
“There will be more flow-on benefits to stock agents and freight companies when we come to restock.
“I already had contacts with QRIDA staff who were excellent to deal with. It was a lot easier and a lot less stressful when you knew who you were dealing with and they knew our situation and what was going on.
“It’s definitely worthwhile, it’s really helped us out a lot. Once you get the ball rolling it’s not as hard as it might seem. They were quick to call us up and put our minds at ease. They have always been very accessible on the phone, we have been really happy.
“We’ve got a lot of benefit out of it all and have been careful to spend locally to help out the whole community.”
Future restocking with additional help
Mr Moore said recovery work was still underway but he would look to QRIDA again to help cover some of the costs.
“We still have a bit of fencing to do and then I’ll get the ball rolling on the $400,000 grant and work out how many cattle we need to buy back in. When they come on the market we’ll look at buying a few,” he said.
QRIDA also administer the $400,000 North Queensland Restocking, Replanting and On-farm Infrastructure grant on behalf of the Australian Government. Eligible primary producers can apply for this next tranche of financial assistance after they have utilised the $75,000 disaster grant.
“That’s the beauty of having a few years to do it all, we can put a plan together and get the right cattle. When the right cattle come along we will be ready to jump on it,” Mr Moore said.
QRIDA administers financial assistance to disaster affected primary producers, businesses and non-profit organisations under the joint Commonwealth / Queensland Government funded Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018. The North Queensland Restocking, Replanting & On-farm Infrastructure Grants are funded by the Australian Government and administered by QRIDA.